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- Arnold & Itkin LLP

Offshore Workers On Their Own for COVID-19 Pandemic

The first coronavirus case discovered on a drilling rig was in the North Sea, on a rig owned by Norwegian company Equinor. Just over a week later, the Coast Guard reported that there were 26 confirmed cases in the Gulf of Mexico. Of the 680 platforms in the Gulf, 7 had confirmed cases aboard. However, no new numbers have come out in the weeks since.

While oil companies release their spokespeople to praise their own responses, experts say that you could not create a more perfect environment for a virus than an offshore platform. 

“It’s scary,” one BP employee said. “You’re in close confinement. It’s like a cruise ship except you’re not going anywhere.”

Offshore rigs:

  • Have limited medical care capacity
  • Are located miles from shore
  • Have cramped, shared quarters

…which makes it all but inevitable that a single infection could spread to a crew of hundreds within a few days. Meanwhile, oil companies have been given free rein to create their own safety regulations. Some companies have evacuated all but the most essential crew, a measure usually reserved for hurricanes. Others have sent all sick employees off their rigs and kept healthy ones on for an extra week of their rotation. 

Workers Lack Basic Safety Protections Under the Law

The problem is that, with every company doing their own version of COVID-19 safety regulations, workers have no real protection except luck. “It all depends where you’re working,” said one assistant driller who was laid off. “If you work for a good company, they look after you. If you don’t, you’re on your own.”

On top of that, some oil companies are using this moment to pressure Congress to suspend the Jones Act. After all, COVID-19 also arrived at the same time that Russia and Saudi Arabia began an oil price war, which has driven the price of oil into the floor since February. With the global pandemic, companies are laying off workers—even as they’re admitting some workers were exposed to coronavirus aboard their rigs. 

Suspending the Jones Act, oil companies say, would help lower the cost of transporting oil to American shores. It would, however, also lift one of the strongest and most important protections offshore workers have: the ability to sue an employer in the event of injury or illness due to negligence.

If you fell ill from COVID-19 after working on an oil rig in the Gulf, speak with our Enterprise Offshore Drilling lawyers. We’re currently investigating cases against companies that may have exposed their crews to COVID-19 due to negligent safety practices. Learn more in a free consultation at (888) 493-1629.