Why are offshore worker fatalities being underreported?

On Behalf of | Sep 1, 2021 | Offshore accidents

After the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in 2010, the U.S. government created the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). The agency was tasked with improving the safety of offshore oil and gas workers as well as enforcing environmental regulations. 

While the Gulf of Mexico hasn’t seen anything comparable to that disaster, which killed 11 people, offshore workers still lose their lives in the line of work. According to a recent investigation, the BSEE is undercounting the fatalities in this line of work.

Gaps in reporting

One key reason for this is that almost half of the deaths of offshore workers in the Gulf of Mexico between 2005 and 2019 didn’t fit the BSEE’s criteria for reporting fatalities. For example, the BSEE doesn’t count deaths that:

  • Occur when workers are en route to offshore facilities
  • Aren’t work-related, even if they occur on offshore platforms
  • Occur in state waters

The problem with the last of these three is that Texas controls nine nautical miles of water out from their coasts. Most states control up to three nautical miles. The federal government controls everything from the state limit to 200 nautical miles offshore.

Why fatalities are increasing

More serious than the lack of reporting, however, is that fatalities among offshore workers seem to be increasing. Even based on the fatalities reported by the BSEE, there were more reported deaths in 2019 than the total for the previous five years.

Among the reasons for the increased danger is that more oil is being produced offshore, while the number of jobs is declining. Therefore, the remaining workers are at greater risk. It’s also hard to get injured workers from remote offshore platforms to hospitals quickly enough to get the medical care they need.

Even though offshore workers in this industry knowingly take on some inherent risks, many injuries and deaths are still preventable by companies maintaining the proper training, equipment and safety protocols. However, when gaps and loopholes don’t reflect the reality, there’s less pressure on them to do that. Nonetheless, injured workers and families of those killed on the job have every right to seek the compensation they need and deserve.