Texas is a major player in the oil and gas industry. From natural gas products to refineries, the oil and gas industry wouldn’t be anything like it is today without Texas. While the industry has brought wealth and prosperity to some, it has come at a grave cost to others. Oilfield accidents are all too common in Texas and they can happen during all phases of the extraction process and beyond, including drilling sites, pipelines, transportation, refineries, and other related areas. All workers have a right to a reasonably safe workplace and this includes oil and gas workers. Energy industry employers can be held responsible when they recklessly endanger the lives of their employees.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates an average of 120 oil and gas fatalities each year, with thousands of more workers suffering serious injuries. Given the dangerous nature of the work, these injuries are often more severe than those sustained in white-collar workplaces. Oilfield accidents can often involve workers who come into contact with an electrical current, with spilled hazardous materials or chemicals, fires, explosions, leaks of toxic substances, and line blowouts, among many other potential causes. Every year in Texas alone, the Texas Railroad Commission assesses tens of thousands of violations against the oil and gas industry for workplace safety failures, which often involve oilfield vehicles, equipment, pipelines, storage, and more.
Causes of Oilfield Accidents
Due to the sensitive nature of the extraction and production of oil, a variety of hazards can lead to a devastating oilfield accident. Workers often work in tight, cramped places, using heavy machinery, complex and sensitive equipment, as well as chemicals. Given that these hazards are built into oilfield work, preventable accidents often cause life-altering injuries and fatalities. Workers suffer from inadequate leadership and oversight by employers in the following ways:
Equipment Failure is a major cause of serious injury and death. Oilfields are intricately built to support oil refinement and production. Every aspect needs to be routinely inspected and serviced in order to protect workers. This applies to heavy equipment and machinery with which workers must interact while performing their daily job duties. Oil companies are notorious for safety issues, at times because the cost of shutting down for maintenance is worth less to them than the cost of human life.
Structural Failure is similar to equipment failure in that beams, pipes, stairwells, and any surface with which employees interact require routine inspection and maintenance. Workers are at risk of being injured by structural dangers when pipes are loose or have cracks/leaks from which chemicals can escape, falling beams, faulty stairs and railings, and more. Because workers are put in confined spaces with heavy objects, it’s important that a facility is structurally sound.
Inadequate Training can be to blame for human error on oilfield worksites. Workers are only as safe as they are trained. This can be said not only with regard to safety training, but also for job-specific training, education on chemicals being used and their hazards, and emergency training. Workers who can detect problems while working with machines, equipment, and chemicals have an opportunity to prevent a serious accident – but they can only do so with essential learning tools. Training needs to be accessible, mandatory, and provided in languages employees can understand – all prior to them taking on any job duties. Additionally, the importance of safety training must be stressed given the amount of risk associated with both job tasks and facility layouts that can be hard to exit during emergencies.
Ignoring Industry Standards contributes to preventable accidents. Oil companies are legally required to operate under federal and state safety standards, including complying with regulations outlined by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). Compliance with these regulations can be time consuming and costly, taking away time and manpower from profitable production schedules. Oilfield owners and operators should regularly shut down worksites to conduct inspections and maintenance, and upgrade facilities that do not meet safety standards.
Lack of Signage and Personal Protective Equipment leave workers vulnerable to worksite dangers. Oilfields should contain posted safety signs, including cautions and rules displayed in high-visibility areas and in a language workers understand. Additionally, employers should provide them with personal protective equipment for an additional barrier between themselves and their work. Personal protective equipment such as safety goggles and hardhats can dramatically reduce severe injuries.
Given the common causes of oilfield accidents, the injuries sustained are usually severe and have lasting physical, emotional, and financial effects. Oilfield accident injuries can leave workers disfigured and unable to work. Common injuries sustained in oilfield accidents include but are not limited to:
- Broken bones or fractures
- Deep cuts and lacerations
- Traumatic Brain Injuries
- Spinal Cord Injuries
How Can a Texas Oilfield Accident Attorney Help?
Texas is one of only two states that do not require employers to subscribe to workers’ compensation. For this and other reasons, when a worker is injured they may be forced to pay their own medical expenses out of pocket. Texas generates the most oilfield accident fatalities in the country; and, it is essential to hire an oilfield accident attorney who knows the applicable state and federal laws. If you or someone you know was injured in an oilfield accident, contact us to learn your rights.