A roughneck is the primary laborer on an oil rig. They usually range in number from two to four, depending on the size of the drilling operation. They are usually what people think of when they think about people who work on oil rigs. They place low in the rig hierarchy. The standard rig hierarchy is, from lowest to highest: roustabout, roughneck, motor man, derrick man, driller, directional driller, toolpusher, company man. Usually there are numerous other support personnel at the rig site who place differently within this general hierarchy.

Some general roughneck characteristics include, being a male, physical strength, being dirty, and a penchant toward cursing and poor grammar. Depending on the operation, they might have a schedule of 2-2 (two weeks of work, two weeks off) with twelve hour shifts, all the way to a 6-2 (six days on, two days off) with eight hour shifts. Other shifts are common as well. Their pay is, in general, slightly more than the average income of the country or region.

Their work includes handling the tongs and/or iron roughneck, cleaning, general repair and maintenance, and pretty much anything that has to be done to keep the rig operating. It is a very dirty and dangerous job. None of the equipment they use is small, and any mishap often claims digits or limbs.