The U.S. Coast Guard has begun drafting regulations that will require workers on U.S. offshore drilling rigs in cold waters to have access to special survival suits.
The Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board held a joint news conference to endorse the suits that, they said, could have saved some of the 85 workers killed Feb. 15, when the 14,913-ton Ocean Ranger oil rig capsized 170 miles off the coast of Newfoundland.
Only 22 bodies have been recovered from that accident, and investigators said all died of hypothermia (rapid loss of body heat) in water that was 31 degrees Fahrenheit.
NTSB member Patrick Bursley said workers could have survived in the water for as long as two hours if they had been wearing the suits, which are made of a foam rubber-like material called neoprene. Ocean Drilling & Exploration Co., the owner of the rig, announced simultaneously that it was voluntarily equipping its employes with the suits and has ordered 3,400 of them at a cost of $1.4 million.
NTSB and the Coast Guard are continuing their investigation of the rig disaster, but Bursley said the agencies decided to endorse the survival suits in advance because they could save lives.
The Coast Guard said its regulation should be ready in September. It added that it should take a worker only a minute to put on one of the suits, but when an employe tried at the news conference, the zipper on the suit stuck and he had to be helped.