Oil Field Accidents
The oil field can be an exciting and lucrative place to work. It can also be dangerous. Even after years of trying to reduce accidents and make the oil field safe, it remains one of the most dangerous work environments around. We always encourage our potential clients to speak to several trial lawyers who specialize in oil field accident cases before selecting an attorney to help with your particular situation. Finding experienced attorneys to help can make a big difference in the future of an injured worker and his or her family.
The oil and gas industry is arguably one of the most dangerous job fields in the country. In 2016 the most common injury in the oil and gas industry was amputation followed by fractures. These injuries are largely due to malfunctioning equipment, falls, explosions, and being struck by objects.
These causes are all similar in that they can be prevented. However, in the oil and gas industry it is common place for safety precautions to be over looked, employees to be over worked, and for equipment to not be properly maintained in order to cut corners and save money.
In 2016 there were 349 “severe injuries” in the industry; a number that OSHA claims is vastly under reported. Sever injuries are defined as anything that causes hospitalization or the loss of a body part. Due to this definition many injuries especially over the long term go unreported.
The rig itself is made up of many moving parts all of which present some sort of hazard. Whether you are the lead man, toolpusher, driller, or a rookie roughneck, you face hazards on a daily basis. Many rigs end up being modified from their original design in order to save on time and money. As a result the safety of the men and women on the rig is compromised. Maintaining the rig and the equipment is the responsibility of the employer and is essential for success and safety in the oilfield.
Contact with equipment such as falling or being crushed made up 55% of all fatalities in the oil and gas industry between 2011 and 2015. This is largely due to improperly assembled equipment, or equipment that isn’t properly maintained. Reports indicate that workers who were injured or killed due to falling on site usually fell from 30 feet up or higher. Safety checks were often skipped in the name of saving time and money meaning that most of these injuries could have been prevented with proper supervision and proper education on PPE and safety procedures when working on the rig. It is the companies due diligence to ensure that safety plans are being implemented instead of avoided in order to fit a timeline.
Fire and Explosions
Fire and explosions pose a serious risk on an oil rig. With numerous flammable materials and gases being used on site the potential to set off a reaction is present at all times. A CDC analysis found that workers in this environment were 7 times more likely to be killed on the job than any other job field in the U.S. Overall there were 85 fatalities due to fires and explosions between 2005-2015. These largely happen due to improper maintenance and repairs, and hot work. Hot work or the use of equipment that introduces some sort of ignition source into the environment is usually done in small confined spaces. As a result, workers are often required to use welding tools, cutting tools, and gas powered tools in close proximity to storage tanks, pipelines, and wells that are all vassals for extremely flammable materials.
Erosion damage on the rig is inevitable due to high velocity flow from the reservoir and through the production system. As you can imagine, any sort of erosion throughout a high pressured system is a recipe for disaster, which more often than not will result in a dangerous situation that puts the well being of the workers at stake.
During the drilling stage oxygen is introduced into the fluids being drilled. When this happens the oxygen contaminated fluid will begin to corrode mud handling equipment, well casing, pipelines, and drilling equipment. When corrosion occurs undetected the result is often disastrous. Pipelines can rupture which can cause toxic chemicals to contaminate workers and their environments.
Exposure to dangerous chemicals while working in the oil and gas extraction industry is an extreme risk. Exposure rates and levels are constantly changing depending on the activity and the spread of particulates, often times the level of contamination increases as the volume of the activity increases.
Due to the extraction process on an oil rig, workers are constantly being exposed to dangerous chemicals, not only do they have to be wary of injected mixtures that are used during the extraction, but they must also be concerned about naturally occurring materials that are being released from within the earth as part of the process. These naturally occurring materials are known as hydrocarbons. Benzene is a naturally occurring hydrocarbon that is frequently monitored while working in an oil field. Workers who are tasked to work around and monitor Benzene levels in flowback fluids are often times exposed to higher than recommended levels of Benzene. According to the CDC signs and symptoms of those who have been exposed to high levels of Benzene are drowsiness, dizziness, rapid or irregular heartbeat, headaches, tremors, confusion, unconsciousness, and at very high levels; death.
Crystalline Silica exposure is another hazard of working in hydraulic fracturing operations and has been classified as a human lung carcinogen. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) several job tasks associated with hydraulic fracturing were identified as harmful to workers in that the exposure to silica exceeded the limits set forth by OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Sand is brought onto the site and is transported through various stages around the well until it is mixed with other hydraulic fracturing fluids and injected into the drilling hole. At any point in this process it is possible for workers to be exposed to dust containing silica through inhalation. Exposure to silica can cause silicosis which reduces the lungs ability to take in oxygen which can lead to serious health risks in the long term and has no known cure. OSHA took 116 samples at 11 different sites across 5 different states, 47% of the samples showed silica exposure greater than the recommended OSHA exposure rate. 79% showed silica exposure greater than the recommended NIOSH rate, and perhaps the most daunting finding was that 31% of all samples showed silica exposure 10 or more times the recommended exposure limit.
Hydrogen Sulfide, also known as “Sour Gas” is commonly found at well sites because it is found in both natural gas and petroleum. It can be released through leaks in well head equipment, line releases, gas venting, line blowouts, and can accumulate in low lying areas. Hydrogen Sulfide works quickly with little to no warning and if not monitored properly can cause death swiftly through inhalation. Over and over we see instances reported to OSHA in which workers are testing levels of chemicals and gases in well sites and end up on the receiving end of chemical exposure. Descriptions like this “At approximately 1:45 p.m. on January 15, 2015, an employee was discovered on a tank battery catwalk with a respirator and gas monitor. The well site was known to be an active hydrogen sulfide environment. The employee was apparently gauging a tank. It is suspected that the employee was killed by over exposure to hydrogen sulfide or hydrocarbon vapors” are common place on OSHA’s website, indicating that they happen more than is acceptable in the oil fields, and often do not garner the attention that they deserve in order to mitigate future accidents of this nature.
Formaldehyde is frequently used in the fracking process and the industry is not required to report the specific details of its use. Studies have found that there are dangerous levels of formaldehyde in not only the ambient air emissions but also in the wastewater that comes from fracking operations. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen which means it is a substance capable of causing cancer in the living tissue of humans exposed to high levels of it. Regardless of the method of intake, it is a highly toxic substance and is one of the more dangerous substances used in the oil and gas industry.