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Steven M. Lee, PC

Fire on Water: Risks, Causes, and Prevention of Offshore Ship and Oil Rig Fires

Shipboard fires can cause devastating burn injuriesAs an offshore worker, you must be on your “A” game at all times. Risk is an everyday part of your job, and you spend your entire career learning to prevent and control those risks so that you can go home in one piece. One of the most devastating risks that you’ll potentially face deals with fires and explosions.

It’s the perfect example of a paradox: You’re surrounded by water, yet you’re at risk for suffering burn injuries.. This scenario is the exact type of ironic risk that maritime workers and seafaring travelers face on a daily basis due to the abundant opportunities for accidents.

Common Causes of Maritime Fires

On a ship, barge, or oil rig, burn hazards are everywhere. The presence of flammable materials, like oil and gasoline, is one of the major fire dangers on a ship or rig. However, in order for these materials to combust they need a fire source. Unfortunately, offshore vessels aren’t short of ignition sources either, making them susceptible to thermal, electrical, and chemical fires:

  • Thermal. With thousands of pieces of machinery constantly working to keep a ship afloat or a rig working, it’s no wonder that excessive heat is a fire risk. Friction caused by the incessant rubbing and grinding release an abundant amount of thermal energy into the air. This heat, depending on the temperature, can ignite flammable fumes.
  • Electrical. In addition to grinding metal, the equipment onboard offshore vessels create fire risks by requiring a tremendous amount of electrical wiring. This wiring is susceptible to overheating, wear-and-tear, as well as water damage, all of which can produce sparks that can ignite fumes and debris.
  • Chemical. Some ships transport highly flammable chemicals from one port to the next. If these chemicals spill, they can react with the air and ignite, or release dangerous fumes into the air.

Maritime Fire Prevention

When a person suffers a burn injury on land, he’s able to receive medical attention almost immediately. When burns reach the second degree level or greater, below the epidermis, quick treatment is crucial to preventing infection and further damage.

People who work offshore do not get the luxury of quick treatment; it can often take medical teams days to reach a ship. Consequently, the best course of action for ship burns is not to suffer one in the first place. Of course, this is easier said then done; but if your job puts you at risk, knowing these important fire prevention tips can drastically reduce your chance of suffering a catastrophic burn:

  • Turn off equipment while refueling. When the ship is being fueled, ensure that all engines and motors have been turned off.
  • Clean up hazardous and flammable spills. If any oil, grease, or other flammable materials have spilled, they should be cleaned up immediately. In fact, you should keep all work areas free of clutter and as clean as possible at all times.
  • Put the cigarettes away. It’s best that no one smokes cigarettes onboard at all, but if there are smokers on the vessel, they should stay away from flammable materials and dispose of their cigarettes safely and properly.
  • Take fire precaution. Institute a regular fire patrol so that someone is always on alert and looking for potential fire hazards.
  • Use fire doors. Fire doors are in place for a reason and should always be kept closed. These doors work to contain the flames to one area if a fire does start.

Spreading the Word to Decrease Risks

Make sure your family and friends are aware of the dangerous consequences of offshore fires. Use your social media to share this page with them via Facebook. You can also tell them to contact us directly (just call 713-921-4171) to discuss any potential questions or concerns they may have about a recent accident. Remember, they may not know their risks until it’s too late. By clicking the above media icons, you can not only help prevent a tragic accident from getting worse, but also potentially help prevent the accident in the first place—a little knowledge can go a long way.

If you have suffered an offshore burn injury, you may be worried about your mounting medical bills, the cost of long-term physical therapy, and lost wages. Fortunately, the Jones Act and other maritime laws may cover much of your costs and losses. If you have questions about how to receive compensation for your injuries, reach out to us now by clicking the live chat feature on this page.


Steven M. Lee
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