California is the third largest oil producing state in the union. And, Kern and Ventura counties are home to most of that oil production. We have fields here locally such as Midway Sunset, Kern River, South Belridge, Elk Hills and Cymric Lost Hills to name a few.
While the oil industry is inherently dangerous, safety precautions are highly effective when basic safety rules are observed and followed closely. When oil well processing and transport facilities choose to skirt or even violate state and federal safety regulations as well as their own safety rules, workers can pursue compensation when injuries result.
The Bakersfield oil field accident lawyers of Rodriguez & Associates have provided caring and results-driven legal help to oil and construction site accidents since 1980. We are highly attuned to the rights of oil field workers because firm founder and lead attorney Daniel Rodriguez has worked in the oil fields as a roustabout and mechanic. He knows firsthand how hard oil field work can be and, unfortunately, how dangerous it can be if the safety rules are ignored.
The oil mining industry is inherently hazardous. Workers often work in potentially dangerous environments, around hazardous substances, and with dangerous heavy equipment. Even those who follow all of the recommended safety rules and guidelines face a certain level of risk when they head into work.
Oilfield Accident Statistics
The oil and gas industry is one of the most dangerous in the world, subjecting workers to hazardous chemicals and fumes, heavy equipment, and high risk of fires and explosions. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the oil and gas extraction and support industries have on-the-job fatality rates that are seven times greater than the rate for all U.S. industries. Get the facts on why oil fields are so dangerous and how workers can protect their rights in the event of a workplace injury or wrongful death.
Accidents Around the U.S. During the Oil and Gas Boom
The “oil and gas boom” in the U.S. describes the decade between 2003 and 2013 when the oil and gas extraction industry doubled the size of its workforce and increased drilling by 71% – an unprecedented amount of growth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1,189 gas and oil workers died during this period. This equates to an average of 108 fatalities per year. The top causes of death were as follows:
- Transportation incidents (40.3%)
- Contact with objects/equipment (25.9%)
- Fires or explosions (14.3%)
- Exposure to harmful substances or environments (8.8%)
- Falls, slips, and trips (8.2%)
The highest fatality rate occurred among workers employed by drilling companies. More than 50% of workers killed (615 people) were employees of companies that service wells. A mid-year report for 2014 (the most recent year for which data is available) shows a total of 43 worker fatalities from January to June around the United States. In these six months, nine workers died during rig up/down operations, four during general well servicing, and three during commuting and rig repair or maintenance.
Oil Field Accidents in California
According to the same CDC 2014 mid-year report, two of the 43 national fatalities from January to June occurred in California (4.7% of the total). A separate report from 2011 describes the on-the-job deaths of workers killed on the job – one man, David Taylor, died after falling into a narrow sinkhole that opened in an oil field. Another man passed away when part of an oil derrick pinned and crushed him. These are just two examples of the many incidents that occur in the state every year – in large part due to negligent employers.
National oil field injury and death statistics point to a marked need for the industry to improve the safety of land transportation – where 86.2% of all fatal transportation incidents took place. Companies should implement better land transportation policies to improve the safety of workers and consider engineering controls such as automated technology to reduce this leading cause of death. Employers should address major causes of death in the industry and take steps to reduce workers’ exposure to workplace hazards.
Worker Rights and Employer Liability for Accidents
After three significant catastrophes in April 2010 – the BP Gulf coast oil rig explosion, the Tesoro refinery explosion, and the Upper Big Branch mining disaster – organizations such as OSHA and the CDC began to investigate the lack of company safety rules and the push for production over worker safety. While administration efforts have improved employee safety (since 1970, occupational fatalities have fallen by 50%), the expanding rights of workers to act in their own best interests is critical to help keep oil field workers safe and healthy.
If you’ve sustained injuries or a loved one has died during work in an oil field in California, visit an attorney to discuss your rights. Workers’ compensation may not be the best course of action if someone else’s negligence contributed to or caused your incident. In these cases, a personal injury lawsuit against your employer can lead to compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, disabilities, pain and suffering, and emotional distress.
Common Oilfield Accidents
According to the latest OSHA information, oil and gas workers maintained a fatality rate that was seven times higher than the average US industry rate over the period from 2003-2010. Some of the most common accidents associated with oilfield work include:
Transportation incidents. Moving oil and oil-related equipment accounts for most accidents. Drivers may not pay attention to those working around them or collide with another driver in the wrong. Oilfield transportation activities affect all areas of work including site preparation, drilling, well construction, abandonment activities, and servicing work. Lots of moving vehicles and carelessness can easily result in an injurious or fatal injury.
Falling objects. Working on the ground puts oilfield workers at risk for falling object injuries. Servicing tools left out, debris flying out from equipment, and other falling hazards can cause brain injuries, lacerations, penetration injuries, and death.
Fires and explosions. Working around drilling equipment and easily ignited materials increases the risk for fire and explosion incidents. Leaving a greasy maintenance rag near a piece of hot equipment or failing to properly service machinery can increase the risk for these types of incidents.
Causes of Oilfield Accidents
Without understanding the underlying causes of oilfield accidents, employers and employees cannot take steps to reduce risk on a job site. Some of the most common contributing factors for oilfield accidents include:
- Inadequate training
- Faulty equipment
- Unanticipated environmental hazards
The majority of oilfield accident causes are entirely preventable with a comprehensive safety and training program. Human error plays a major role in the type and severity of oilfield accidents.
Common Oilfield Injuries
Injuries associated with oilfield accidents range from temporary hearing loss from loud explosions to permanent disfigurement and death. Common causes of oilfield injuries include:
Burns. Steam, fire, electric shock, and hot equipment may all contribute to burn injuries. Mild burns may heal on their own within a few days or weeks, but serious burns can cause permanent nerve damage, disfigurement, and the need for prolonged rehabilitation.
Fractures. Falling, being struck by a falling object, transportation accidents, and explosions can all result in fractures that put an oilfield worker out of work for weeks or months at a time.
Permanent hearing loss. Without adequate ear protection, working around loud machinery can cause permanent hearing loss and affect an individual’s ability to work and his or her quality of life.
Brain injuries. All of the most common oilfield accidents may result in a debilitating brain injury. While a worker may recover from a mild concussion or contusion over time, other forms of trauma may cause lasting damage and prevent someone from living or working normally.
Avoiding Oilfield Accidents and Injuries
Both employers and employees play a role in accident prevention. While some risk comes with the territory, many oilfield accidents are highly preventable. Employees can engage in basic safety practices to reduce the risk of injury including:
- Paying attention while on the job. Avoid distractions and focus on the task at hand.
- Following safety recommendations. Employers enforce safety training programs and requirements for a reason. Pay attention to all employee handbook guidelines and follow recommendations to reduce the risk of personal injury.
- Alerting supervisors to unsafe conditions. If you notice a safety hazard on the worksite, let someone know. Avoid continuing to work in a potentially dangerous work environment.
The oil and gas industry is lucrative, but it comes at a high price for those who work on the ground every day. With an understanding of the risks and some preventative measures, everyone can reduce the risk of accidents and injuries throughout the industry.
Contact One of Our Oil Field Injury Lawyers
Rodriguez & Associates is conveniently located in downtown Bakersfield, California, in the oldest free-standing brick building in the county. We are available for weekend and evening appointments, charge no fee for consultations and speak both English and Spanish. To contact us, please call 661-323-1400 or 800-585-9262 Toll Free to schedule a free consultation with one of our Bakersfield oil field accident attorneys today.