While past generations of oil rig workers may have prided themselves on their “toughness” and ability to withstand the physical debilitation brought by years of this grueling work, today’s crews understand the importance of maintaining your physical health. Failing to take proper care of yourself while working on an oil rig can result in lifelong damage to your health. Long-term health problems affect not only you, but also your loved ones.
Taking practical measures now to keep yourself comfortable and safe while working on an oil rig is the key to making sure this job is as rewarding as it should be, for you and for your family.
Steel-toed boots are the mainstay of an oil rigger’s workday. More of a tool than a clothing item, your boots are an investment in your career, not to mention your health. Veterans of the industry know that a cheap boot comes at a heavy price. (A good rule of thumb is that if the boots cost under $100, you’re asking for trouble.)
So skip the “superstores” and spring for the high-end pair made with real leather. Newer quality models boast an improvement in the steel toe caps, making them lighter and thinner while still accident-proof. Just beware of the “slip-on” models. Many oil rig workers have found that lace-ups are the only way to be 100% sure of your stability—a pretty important issue during rough weather on an oil rig.
Another classic rookie mistake is buying boots that are too wide. Many oil rig workers, when they feel their toes rubbing against the steel, assume that what they need is a wider pair. In fact, boots that are too wide allow your foot to slide forward in the shoe, cramping your toes even more. Instead to make your boots more comfortable, ask for the pair the next size up. A longer boot will give your toes comfortable room while keeping it firmly anchored in the boot.
Over time, flat-soled shoes will cause toe cramps, knee problems, shooting pain up your legs and ultimately chronic back problems. For career oil rig workers, these kinds of health issues are not an option. Good insoles can make all the difference between going home tired but happy and going home hating the world.
The good news is that the cost of premium or custom-made insoles can often be covered by medical insurance. Avoid the gel variety in favor of “support” or “sport” insoles, which are firm material and have plenty of arch support.
To get the best result, take your insoles with you when you shop for boots. By trying on new boots with the insole, you’ll be sure to go home with the right fit for your foot.
Try working one shift in a pair of quality socks (especially the kind made specifically for steel-toed boots) and you’ll never go back.
The right kind of socks will be not only durable but feel soft and comfortable. Choose a moisture-wicking fabric like wool or a wool blend (cotton will get soggy and lead to blisters). If your feet get extra sweaty, look for socks with extra absorbency to keep your feet dry. Ideally, you’ll also have toe and heel reinforcement for the areas that get the most friction in your boots. Some socks will even boast arch support and calf compression to give that extra support.
Ear protection: In the words of one veteran oil rig worker, “If someone tells you there are quiet places on deck, they’re probably deaf already.” The best option is to get professionally fitted for noise protection earphones, but at the bare minimum you should make diligent use of the disposable sponge earplugs that most rigs will supply. (Bring a pack of your own, just in case.)
Spare gloves and goggles: Like earplugs, these are safety devices that the oil rig company should provide. But it’s a good idea to bring your own along, in case the supply gets “mysteriously” short.
Shower shoes: Sharing a bathroom with a large crew could mean sharing a lot more, unless you take precautions. (Think back to your high school locker room.) A pair of cheap flip flops could be what stands between you and foot fungus.
High SPFSunscreen: Even on cold or cloudy days, the sun and wind will be relentless. And if you’re craving that tough, “weathered” look, rest assured that no amount of sunscreen will keep your skin from getting well seasoned by the elements. So get in the habit of applying sunscreen first thing every day. You wouldn’t want to finish your oil rig career with melanoma as a retirement gift.
Remember, the key to the longevity of your career on an oil rig is maintaining your strength, both physical and mental. Making yourself comfortable is not a luxury—it’s an investment in your career.