Big pay and big danger awaits oil rig workers

If you don’t mind working in the middle of the ocean, risking death or serious injury from explosions, rogue waves or machinery, and knowing that emergency rescue isn’t quite around the corner should something goes wrong, oil rig work is for you. Today’s economic realities have sent out-of-work laborers flocking to drilling jobs. They pay a lot of money, especially for people with a good education, and that is why so many¬†are willing to disregardthe risks that come with working aboard what can be a floating bomb.

The lowest-paid job on a rig, a roustabout, earns as much as $20 an hour. Roughnecks, a step up on the labor chain, earn almost $30 an hour. A rig manager can make a half-million dollars a year or more. However, the work is dangerous and hard, with 12 hour shifts standard. The pressure to produce can push safety standards to the limit. The 2010 BP oil rig blowout in the Gulf of Mexico highlighted the conflict between safety and output. Procedures were rushed, shortcuts were taken that saved time but dramatically increased the risk of a natural gas explosion, and supervision was lax. Eleven people died as a result.

Oil producers concerned about liability, and also watching the continuous parade of lawsuits against BP, have clamped down on safety, or at least so they say. The federal government is also tightening up regulations, but the cold fact is there are not enough safety inspectors to visit all the oil rigs. People considering a job need to remember that big paychecks come with big risks. The Labor Department says commercial fishing is the most hazardous per-capita occupation there is. Oil rig work isn’t far behind.

Source: Chicago Tribune, “Lonely, hard work on oil rigs but salaries soaring,” Luke Pachymuthu, Oct. 14, 2012