In Texas, oil and gas production are an important part of both the economy and our history. Generations of Texans have worked in the oil and gas fields and done a great deal to build this state into what it is today.
But oilfield work is hard, and it can be very dangerous. In fact, workers in the oil and gas industry are some of the most at-risk of all American workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the risk of serious injury to these workers is at least five times the national average of all occupations. In 2014, the last year with complete data, fatal injuries were up 27 percent over the year before. A total of 142 workers in the industry died that year from injuries on the job.
People unfamiliar with the industry might think that most of the risks oilfield workers face are simple physical ones: the obvious dangers, such as falls or being struck by a heavy piece of equipment or a vehicle. In that way, oilfield work is similar to construction. As the industry with the largest number of worker fatalities, there’s a lot of focus on construction and its “fatal four” causes of serious injury.
Oilfield workers have a “fatal five” of their own when it comes to serious injury: motor vehicle accidents; struck-by incidents; caught in/between/under; falls, slips, and trips; and strains. The major hazards behind these injuries include motor vehicles and heavy equipment, high-pressure equipment, and rolling pipe. But working in an oil or gas field also exposes workers to some hazards that construction workers rarely or never encounter.
One hazard unique to the industry is how workers are frequently exposed to toxic substances. In some cases, the gases and vapors emitted by oil and gas products themselves, such as hydrogen sulfide gas (H2S), are the problem. In other cases, the materials used in the drilling or extraction process, including the fluids and proppants used in fracking, could be the issue. Many of these formulations, the contents of which are often kept secret even from the workers using them, contain toxic substances which have been known to cause respiratory problems, cancer, and other illnesses.
Some of these materials are so toxic and so potent that they have caused problems for the healthcare workers who have treated exposed oilfield workers. Unlike physical injuries, which have an immediate effect, some of these chemical exposures can cause health problems that might not show up for years. Others can kill workers almost instantly, and yet the employers who allow these accidents to happen still sometimes take no responsibility and face no criminal penalties.
We tend to think of coal mining as one of the most dangerous jobs to have. In fact, in 2014 the fatal injury rate for oilfield and gas field workers was higher than that for coal miners. The data also show that the workers most at risk of serious injury and death in an oilfield are the newest hires and the most recent transfers. An OSHA study found that one-third of fatalities happened during the first three months of employment and that two-thirds happen to workers still in their first year on the job.
No job is completely safe, and workers enter into particular professions with a general awareness of the risks. Oilfield work is no different. But oilfield work is more dangerous than most jobs, and when a worker is injured or becomes ill, the reality is that the root cause is often the reckless or negligent actions of another. Many factors can contribute to this, including inadequate training, unreasonable productivity demands or unrealistic schedules, a lack of attention to proper safety, and drug or alcohol use by an employee.
At Colley & Colley, LLP, we have extensive experience investigating the details of oilfield injury and fatality cases and determining the true cause. If you or someone close to you has been the victim of an oilfield accident, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries, lost wages, and other expenses. Give us a call to find out how we can help. Our number is 1-877-411-2001 or you can contact us online through the form below. The consultation is free and carries no obligation, so call today.