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Oilfield Accidents and OSHA Violations

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 663 deaths in oil-related industries nationwide between the years of 2007 and 2012, during what should have been called a productive boom. 65 of those fatalities, or roughly 10%, occurred in 2012 alone. About 250 or 40% of the total all happened right here in the Lone Star State of Texas. While these statistics are disheartening as they are, the picture turns worse once you realize that the vast majority of oilfield accidents go unreported or uninvestigated.

An Investigation Sheds Light on the Issue

The Houston Chronicle analyzed 18,000 records of injury and illnesses the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and other similar groups collected since 2007 to find the source, or sources, of the dangers of the oil industry. They discovered years of failed safety initiatives and a lackadaisical view on what constitutes a serious accident. In order for OSHA to investigate an oilfield accident, at least one employee must be killed or 3 must be hospitalized. If just one or two people suffer catastrophic but nonfatal injuries, OSHA will not show up. Out of the 18,000 records they checked, only 150 met this criteria, and out of those few incidents OSHA did bother to investigate, 78% had violations that should have been preventable with stricter safety protocols.

While the 65 deaths in 2012 is tragic, another 928 workers that year suffered broken bones, severe burns, amputation, or crush injuries. With close to 1,000 catastrophic or fatal accidents occurring in one year, how come nothing is being readily addressed? Why is there apparently so much room for error?

Outdated Safety Standards and Lenient Penalties

In 1992, government officials revamped industrial safety standards… but left out oilfield and refineries. OSHA officials have admitted in the past that onshore drilling sites are mostly using outdated equipment or techniques that have been deemed unsafe years ago by offshore sites. Out of all the worksites in Texas that require OSHA inspection – not just oilfields but also manufacturing plants, restaurants, and more – there were only 95 inspectors in 2014, making it difficult to make any full inspections, not to mention corrections. For mobile drilling sites that exist for weeks or months, an inspector might not show up to investigate an incident until well after the site is completely deconstructed.

Further problems surround oilfields and refineries, including oil companies actually being able to bar OSHA from entering their sites without an inspection warrant. The in-depth study also revealed that if OSHA does impose fines, they are usually quite small. A 2013 rig collapse in West Texas that took the life of a worker spurred a fine of just $41,000; only two weeks prior at the same site, another worker died from heat exhaustion and OSHO suggested a $6,900 fine. There was also evidence to suggest that newcomers get the tasks that require the most experience to complete safely, despite logic and safety dictating matters be handled oppositely.

Can Outside Pressure Solve the Issue?

After the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill catastrophe in 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) became concerned with how offshore oil drilling was handled. With such a heavy-hitter standing in opposition of unsafe industrial practices, it seems that real improvements could be coming to offshore sites. Onshore oilfields and refineries are a different story, however, and OSHA has not made any great strides in recent years.

[Be sure to check out the full article published by the Houston Chronicle here for more information.]

Oilfield employees need help now, though. They cannot wait for OSHA to step up and take responsibility for their safety. If you or someone you love has been injured while working on an oilfield, contact Dean Law Firm and schedule a free consultation with our highly-experienced, highly-motivated Texas oilfield accident attorney today.