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At Any Cost: Workers take on the risk

By: Justin Solet

In 2005, while aboard an oil and gas platform off the Louisiana coast, I was “run-off" a job by the “company man.” There's oilfield slang that requires time and experience in order to acquire full fluency. “Company man” is a person who represents the interests of the shareholders and executives. “Run off” is an innocent sounding enough expression, but to anyone who works offshore it means you aren’t welcome back on that particular jobsite. You aren’t necessarily fired, but the reputation can result in career long consequences. 

I was a blowout specialist, and my team was contracted to do a simple “snubbing” job: Another company had lost some coil tubing down a well, and we had to go in, pull, and cut. But we also knew that the well still had pressure of about 4,000 psi.

After rigging up and testing the Blow Out Preventers (BOPs) we began the pulling and cutting of the coil tubing. Three hours into operations, the weather took a turn for the worse. With Gulf winds blowing over 25-mph and rain whipping around my crew, I called an “All-Stop” to operations and shut-in the well. 

In Southern Louisiana, we’ve all experienced a sudden deluge mid-task. I invite you to recall that moment of bringing the lawnmower back to the shed or the groceries to the car amidst a storm, but instead imagine performing this task aboard a metal island in the middle of the ocean, and instead, that task could result in the injury or death of your coworkers. 

Yes, I was there to do a job for my employer, and for the company they were contracted to, but not at the expense of my crew. Each man had a family waiting for him at home, and my ultimate responsibility was to them. 

Once all operations were halted and all safety checks were in place to leave the rig floor, I was confronted by the “company man.” He asked who gave me the authority to shut down his job, and why was no one working. 

All offshore workers have a Stop Work Authority (SWA) if an activity could result in death or serious physical harm or significant environmental harm. After an initial Job Safety Analysis, it is standard operating procedure to secure the site for nighttime and save snubbing operations for daylight. It is also standard operating procedure to halt operations during dangerous weather conditions. 

Despite this legal right and my SWA obligation as lead on the job, the company man grew red in the face and threw a corporate tantrum, spitting at me about “running cost of operations” and howling that “if I was too afraid to do my job he would get someone else to do it and that he would have my job over this.” I stood firm that the safety of the hands on the job was my first priority. At that point, I gathered my crew and asked every hand if they too felt the job was too dangerous to continue that evening and they all agreed.

We all waited in the smoke shack while the company man continued to shout profanities at me and my crew, accusing us of insubordination, and that he had called for a crew boat to pick us up to remove us from the platform. Because of weather conditions, the crew boat that normally took 4 hours wouldn't arrive for another 10 hours. 

The next day I returned to my shop and was called into the boss's office where I was notified that my job was safe with the company, but in any other circumstance, I would have been terminated. I was told my job was a privilege, and I should see it as such. There was no pat on my back for doing the work correctly, nor was there any talk about the unsafe work practices of the company we were contracted to. It was just get it done at all costs. Walking  away, I thought, “Whose costs exactly?” 

This is not an unusual scenario. After almost a century, the American Gulf of Mexico should be the safest, most professional, and advanced offshore province on the planet. But instead it can feel more like the Wild West with workers at the mercy of a phantom suit in a Houston highrise.

This is why I am proud to share a service for offshore workers: OWLL: Offshore Workers Legal Line presented by True Transition and the Emergency Legal Responders. OWLL will provide free and confidential assistance to offshore workers. The hotline attorneys will provide answers on workplace safety compliance, legal rights on the job, workers’ compensation, and any other offshore work-related concerns. Whether you are on a foreign flagged vessel or on a platform owned by a transnational company, you have rights, and OWLL attorneys will be available to answer your questions and provide you with the knowledge to keep you and your team safe. 

The OWLL Hotline operates every Tuesday and Thursday 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM, and you can reach us at:

Phone: (844) 212-5447

If contacting our hotline by phone is not feasible for you, please don’t hesitate to submit an anonymous inquiry here and our attorneys will get back to you.  

I felt alone on that rig so many years ago, but with OWLL, you won’t be alone. 

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