Oil and gas accidents, injuries and deaths have become a serious and far too common occurrence as the industry continues to grow at a tremendous pace. According to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries from 2003 to 2016, 1,485 oil and gas extraction workers were killed on the job. The oil and gas industry is a vital part of the economy, but it is also full of dangers to employees. With a fatality rate seven times greater than the rate for all U.S. industries it is important to stay safe and learn about your rights should you, or a loved one experience an injury.
According to the United States Department of Labor, the most common oil and gas industry accidents are:
In the oil and gas industry, it’s common for many different service providers, working for several different business entities, to work on various phases of jobs. Determining which organization is responsible for injuries and damages can be complicated.
Our team at Zaner Harden Law has the experience to help you determine the factors that contributed to your injury, the parties that are liable, and the steps you need to take to pursue the compensation you deserve. We understand the emotional toll and devastating effects that oil and gas injuries and accidents can have on you and your loved ones. The stress alone can make it difficult to think about legal matters. Rest assured that we’re here to take the burden of those responsibilities off of your shoulders. With Zaner Harden on your side, we will handle the process from start to finish, and you can be certain that we secure the best possible results for your case.
In a 12-year span, an oil and gas worker died once every three months on average in Colorado. That adds up to 51 fatalities since 2003 in Colorado’s oil and gas fields, according to federal data.
Over 450,000 workers were employed in the oil and gas extraction and support industries in 2011 (Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages). These workers are engaged in many different industrial processes needed to successfully drill and service a well. These methods frequently require the use of specialized equipment and specialized work crews. From 2003 to 2016, 1,485 oil and gas extraction workers were killed on the job-a fatality rate seven times greater than the rate for all U.S. industries. (Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries)
Oil and gas workers are prone to all manner of injury, due to the natural hazards of the job. But the most common types of injury are not what you might think. Here are the highlights:
1. Driving is the Most Dangerous Job in the Oil and Gas industry
Most oil and gas deaths are related to transportation, especially when workers drive from one job site to another on unsafe rural roads. About 4 out of every ten deaths on the job occur as a result of vehicle collisions. Transportation accidents are the most common cause of fatal workplace injuries in the oil and gas extraction industries. This type of accident was responsible for causing close to 50 percent of the industry’s workplace fatalities in 2011 alone. Workers are often expected to pull long shifts hours away from their homes. Oil and gas employees are many times not subject to the regulations that keep truck drivers from working long shifts on the road, which pressures employees to make long commutes home after shifts that can be 20 hours or longer.
2. Machine-Related Injuries
Three out of five fatalities on well sites occur as a result of hazards associated with workers being struck, caught in and caught between moving vehicles or equipment, high-pressure lines and falling equipment. Oil and gas companies use hazardous equipment and heavy machinery, which leads to workplace injury. Heavy lifts, hoists, derricks, drillers, and unloading and loading materials can all cause crush injuries or trauma. Also, machines used in drilling are extremely loud and can cause hearing loss. It is an absolute must that oil and gas companies require operators to wear appropriate protective gear, such as earplugs and gloves while operating equipment.
It is an unfortunate reality that combining the hazardous equipment with long shifts and worker fatigue can be a recipe for disaster. Workers can suffer dismemberment, crush injury, or even death from being caught in compressors, pumps, and other heavy equipment. Oil and gas companies are required to follow OSHA regulations to minimize the risk of these types of injuries by checking their equipment often and making sure employees have proper safety gear and breaks.
3. Illness from Chemical Exposure
Chemical exposure is a common occurrence in the oil and gas industry. The processes involved in drilling can release noxious chemicals into the work area. Most notably, oil refineries can release hydrofluoric acid, which can scar lungs and cause death by asphyxiation. It’s so noxious that it can permeate the skin and react with calcium deep within our bones. Prolonged exposure to other chemicals in refineries and wells can lead to respiratory problems, brain injury, paralysis, leukemia, and other kinds of cancer.
In the short term, workers who are exposed to oil industry chemicals report a headache, nausea, fatigues, eye irritation, and chemical burns. It’s essential that oil and gas companies require workers to wear proper protection and respiratory masks when working both on the rig and in the refinery.
4. Fires and explosions
Flammable gases and vapors pose risks to oilfield workers when they are released from tanks, shale shakers, trucks, generators, engines, wells and other production or surface equipment. Fires and explosions can start when these materials come into contact with lightning, static, cigarettes, welding and cutting tools, open flames, electrical sources and even hot surfaces. Employers can prevent catastrophic injuries to workers by conducting fire risk assessments, enforcing work safety guidelines and they must have a proper fire prevention plan in place, and take every precaution necessary to avoid a tragedy.
Oil and gas workers often have to perform their job duties in locations high off the ground, which makes them more vulnerable to injuries associated with falls. Falls from drilling platforms, elevated equipment can cause serious and life-threatening injuries. OSHA requires employers to provide fall protection to safeguard workers from these risks.
Other threats in the oil and gas industry that put workers at risk include confined spaces, ergonomic hazards, handling high-pressure lines and machines, dealing with electrical energy and dangers associated with wellhead equipment.
Hand and Finger Injuries Outweigh Every Other Type
The dangers of working in the oil and gas industry are no secret: the hazards are well known, and industry safety standards reflect that fact. But what might not be as obvious is the sheer volume of hand and finger injuries compared with all other recorded incidents. By far, hands suffer the most abuse and take on the most risks.
According to the International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC), hand and finger injuries account for a much greater percentage than any other category. The U.S. land totals were nearly 40 percent in 2015, with a combination of other injuries, such as head, back and, torso, making up the remainder of recorded events.
Most oil and gas companies have a hand and finger safety campaign in force. Educational posters on site and worker training create an environment of awareness, which helps — especially with more seasoned workers. The IADC reports show that after five years in the industry, worker incidents drop off significantly.
However, awareness and experience only do part of the job. To combat the ever-increasing tally of injuries, companies need to approach safety from the inside out by minimizing the possibilities of risk instead of only providing protection. If protection fails, the worker is subjected to the hazard’s full brute force.
Culling the vast oil and gas reserves in Colorado is a dangerous job. Oil and gas companies say they work hard to educate their employees about job hazards and promise to keep their workers safe. Some examples of federal and state laws and other protections applicable to oil and gas are summarized here.
If you or a loved one suffered an injury from an oil and gas work accident in Colorado, you need the experienced team of Zaner Harden Lawyers who can act fast and conduct an investigation that is sure to get you the money you need for expenses, pain and suffering, and lost wages.
At Zaner Harden Law, our compassionate, experienced attorneys are here to help you. Our attorneys take on a limited number of cases so that all of our time and attention is focused on getting you the compensation and justice you deserve. We invite you to request a free, confidential consultation with one of our oil and gas attorneys–so that you can get your questions answered and feel confident about the next step. Call us today or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment and meet our team.