What Is a Derrick?
The term "derrick" traces its roots back to a type of gallows named after Thomas Derrick, an English Elizabethan-era executioner. Today, derrick primarily refers to a device designed for lifting and moving heavy objects. Derricks play an indispensable role in offshore operations.
At its core, a derrick is a type of crane distinctively characterized by its tower-like appearance, as opposed to the arm structure commonly seen in conventional cranes. Each derrick consists of a singular tower or mast, which is manipulated by lines, typically powered by motors. These motors enable the derrick to move its pole in various directions, providing flexibility in its lifting and moving operations. While many derricks are used on docks, some are mounted directly onto vessels, earning the title of "floating derricks." In the offshore industry, these apparatuses are primarily tasked with loading and unloading cargo, whether at port or in open waters.
However, not all derricks are created for cargo operations. Some are designed for a more specialized task: drilling for oil. Often referred to as drilling rigs, oil derricks are marvels of engineering complexity. They serve as the primary structures to extract crude oil from offshore reserves. Attached to the derrick's lines is a drill that can penetrate various depths of sediment beneath the ocean floor. A key feature of these oil derricks is their capability to regulate drilling pressure, ensuring that the drill bit operates at optimal speeds. This control is crucial, for moving too rapidly could risk damaging the drill bit or leading to other significant operational challenges.
Derrick Worker Job Duties & More
Derrick workers, often referred to as "derrick hands" or "derrickmen," play a crucial role in drilling operations, especially in the oil and gas industry. Derrick workers typically rig the equipment and operate the pumps. Some are commissioned to repair pumps and others do maintenance on mud tanks. Others are responsible for inspecting the machinery to discover flaws. If any flaws are discovered, they should communicate to the maintenance crew so that the defects can be fixed. Some employees are hired to keep the derricks clean so that they can operate at maximum capacity. Others with more responsibility will have the job of supervising other workers.
If something goes wrong while performing derrick operations, the supervisor may face some of the responsibility. Most derrick workers must only have a high school education and will likely be required to participate in some on-the-job training. Those who work in more specialized fields in the industry will likely need to go through training or certification programs to gain employment. It is important for employers to make sure that only those employees with the proper training perform specialized tasks.
Employers that fail to screen or properly train their employees may become liable if those employees cause accidents or operating errors involving derricks.
Derrick Accidents & Injuries
Any crew member who works with or around derricks may be at risk of being injured in an accident due to equipment malfunction or inadequate safety standards.
Some of the risks associated with derricks include:
- Falls from Heights: Derrick workers often must work at significant heights, making them susceptible to falls, especially if safety harnesses or guardrails fail or are not used properly.
- Equipment Malfunctions: The malfunctioning of drilling equipment or tools can lead to serious injuries. This includes the unexpected release of pressure, failures of the derrick structure, or issues with the drilling apparatus.
- Exposure to Harmful Chemicals: During drilling operations, derrick hands might come in contact with drilling fluids, mud, and other chemicals, some of which can be hazardous if inhaled or touched.
- Explosions and Fires: Derrick operations involve extracting hydrocarbons, which can be flammable. Any spark or high temperature can lead to explosions or fires, posing significant risks to workers.
- Falling Objects: Derrickmen are at risk from falling or swinging objects, especially when heavy equipment or tools are hoisted up or down the derrick. These can cause life-threatening injuries.
- Caught-in/Between Hazards: Workers might get caught in or between machinery, especially when handling the drill string or other rotating equipment, leading to amputation or crush injuries.
- Exposure to Extreme Weather: Derrick operations, especially offshore, might expose workers to extreme weather conditions, from scorching heat to freezing temperatures, which can lead to heat stress or hypothermia.
Working near derricks can also lead to hearing loss from constant exposure to loud machinery and vibrations from drilling, and workers may experience injuries caused by overexertion, heavy lifting, or repetitive motion.
Given these risks, strict adherence to safety protocols, continuous training, and proper equipment maintenance are critical in ensuring the safety and well-being of derrick workers.
Protecting Derrick Workers’ Rights & Interests
Those who work with derricks in the offshore industry may be entitled to benefits under the Jones Act, provided they meet the requirements of the seaman status test. Those who do not meet the qualifications of the Jones Act will likely qualify for other types of benefits listed in admiralty law. For example, the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act provides benefits to offshore workers and those in adjoining capacities who are injured on the job. An "adjoining capacity" can be something like working in a shipyard, loading and unloading cargo from vessels.
To learn about what rights and benefits you might be entitled to as a derrick worker or a worker in a related occupation, contact Arnold & Itkin today.