Oil Rig Dangers: Work-Related Injuries and Safety

Oil Rig Dangers

Despite a rise in alternative energy sources, global demand for oil continues to increase. In the United States alone, over 7.2 billion barrels of petroleum products were consumed in 2016—an average of almost 20 million barrels a day. Almost 40 percent of employers in the oil and gas industry plan to increase their workforce by at least 5 percent over the next year to expand production.

Extracting oil is a dangerous business, whether it’s done onshore or offshore. Oil rig dangers are considerable, because this line of work deals with intense pressure, highly combustible material and heavy equipment.

According to data compiled by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a worker in the oil and gas industry is six times more likely to die on the job than the average American worker.

When workers are offshore, help is not close by. A fire or another accident can quickly escalate into a tragedy. Thinking back to the almost 200 workers who perished in explosions on the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 and the Piper Alpha in the North Sea in 1988 remind us how perilous this line of work can be. 

When disaster strikes on an oil rig, what are the top reasons people are injured? Could safety measures have reduced the number of victims of these accidents? Let’s take a look at the numbers, some of the more common reasons oilfield workers are at risk and measures companies can take to protect their employees.

How Many Oil and Gas Employees Are Hurt or Injured On the Job?

Oilfield work often appears on lists of the most dangerous professions. As the oil and gas industry boomed from an average of 800 active drilling rigs in the 1990s to approximately 1,300 in the time period from 2003 to 2006, the worker fatality rate increased, with over 400 workers losing their lives on the job. The Centers for Disease Control found that the annual fatality rate climbed to 30.5 per 100,000 workers over those four years alone. 

The three states with the most oilfield deaths in 2008 were Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. From 2004 until 2008, the number of fatalities while working in the oil and gas industry increased by 91 percent in Oklahoma, 21 percent in Texas and 30 percent in Louisiana.

In addition to an alarming high worker death rate in the oil and gas industry, life-altering injuries can also occur. In 2016 alone, at least 20 workers a month were hospitalized or lost a body part while on the job. Oilfield workers can also experience major burns and fractures, among other injuries. The Labor Department speculates that employers under report injuries by as much as 60 percent. The former head of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) pointed out that a culture of not reporting these incidents in the oil and gas industry is common, so even more workers are probably hurt or injured on the job.

Why Are Oilfields So Dangerous?

Why are so many oil and gas workers injured or killed while on the job? What is it, exactly, that makes working in this industry so dangerous? Most work-related injuries and fatalities are associated with working in an extremely high-pressure environment, with workers spending long periods of time away from home logging long hours in a physically-demanding environment. Part of the pressure comes with the cost of doing business, where just a one-minute delay can cost a company hundreds of dollars.

As a result, we see more human error in this type of work, which can lead to equipment misuse and procedures being implemented unevenly. Ultimately, these errors can jeopardize the safety of the job site. A few reasons oilfield work is particularly risky is that this line of work involves heights, heavy equipment, challenges getting to and from job sites and dangerous materials.

Fall Hazards On Oilfields

Working in an oilfield can be terrifying if you have a fear of heights. A misstep on an offshore outboard walkway at night means almost certain death if a worker falls. Slipping while moving materials on an elevated platform can result in life-changing injuries. From 2003 to 2013, falls increased 2 percent annually in the oil and gas industry. The CDC identified 63 fatal falls while analyzing OSHA data, which represents 15 percent of all fatal events during that same time period. Fifty-two percent of workers fell from a height of more than 30 feet, resulting in catastrophic injuries. Thirty-five percent of falls were from the derrick board, which is the elevated work platform on an oil rig.

The same report showed that most of the fatalities happened when the rigs were being assembled or disassembled at the well site or when drill pipe was inserted or removed from the wellbore. Derrickmen were found to be the most susceptible to falls when they handle pipe from the derrick board.

Dangers Associated With Heavy Equipment

When you work several stories off the ground, as is typical on an oil derrick, dropped equipment can become missiles that can easily maim workers or cause serious injury. A common hazard in both construction and the oil and gas industry, falling equipment caused 22 percent of all oilfield worker fatalities in the time period from 2003 to 2006. For onsite fatalities, the leading cause of death was being struck by, crushed or caught in equipment.

Spinning machinery and support equipment, including cranes and forklifts, are frequently in motion on a job site in the oil and gas industry. These conditions put workers at an increased risk for injury. In addition, the noise level of the working environment makes communication difficult. Six percent of oil worker deaths were attributed to workers being crushed by moving equipment.

Risks Getting To and From Job Sites

Workers typically work 8 to 12 hour days at a stretch of 7 to 14 days at a time, which leads to worker fatigue. This demanding schedule not only slows reaction time while on the job but also when the workday ends. Workers may leave a job site and have a long drive to where they will be staying. Transportation accidents are the leading cause of death among oil and gas extraction workers.

During the oil boom, State Highway 72 in South Texas became one of the state’s deadliest roads. The highway connects the oil towns of Kenedy and Tilden to the Three Rivers Valero refinery. In the first six months of 2014 alone, oil and gas companies filed 24 claims for fatal auto accidents. 

In a report from Houston Public Media, Texas Mutual Insurance Vice President for Safety Services Woody Hill said, “We see a high incidence of motor vehicle operators who’ve worked fourteen-hour shifts, driving down the road and falling asleep at the wheel.”

Offshore workers travel to and from rigs on helicopters, which can also pose health and safety risks. In 2016, all 13 passengers died after a helicopter crashed off Norway’s coast. In 2015, a helicopter eturning from an oil rig off the coast of Nigeria crashed, claiming the lives of four oil industry workers. Tragically, 45 offshore oil workers lost their lives in 1986 while traveling on a Chinook helicopter to a platform stationed in the North Sea.

Perils Linked To Oilfield materials

It goes without saying that petroleum is highly combustible, as are some of the chemicals that are used in onshore drilling, such as hydrogen sulfide. A well can explode if too much pressure is allowed to build up inside. The CDC reported that 7 percent of oil and gas extraction worker fatalities from 2003 to 2006 were from fires and an additional 9 percent were from explosions. Electrocution claimed the lives of an additional 5 percent of oilfield workers.

Improved Workplace Safety Can Save Lives

Too many oil and gas workers are losing their lives or dealing with life-changing injuries as a result of a workplace accident. Despite the dangers associated with oil and gas extraction, injuries and deaths in the industry can be reduced with improved safety measures, implementation, training and sharing of best practices.

Improved Safety Measures

Tighter safety requirements, tougher inspections and more oversight of oil operations can help spot potential problems and curb both the number and severity of oilfield accidents. As new technologies become available, more oil rig tasks are being automated, which can move workers away from dangerous equipment and into safer monitoring roles.

Employers can take steps to improve safety by making sure all workers have proper protective equipment and receive adequate training. Companies can go beyond regulations to keep pathways on a oil rig clear of debris to prevent workers from tripping or being struck by an object. Monitoring equipment placed inside of vehicles can give companies more insight about how to make improvements to existing vehicle safety programs.

Better Implementation of Existing Regulations

In many cases, safety measures do exist, but are not followed, or are not followed correctly. In response to the number of industry-related fatal injuries in 2004, the NIOSH created an Oil and Gas Safety and Health program. The agency concluded in a March 2016 report that while the oil and gas extraction industry made progress in reducing the fatality rate, the risk of workers dying is still significantly higher than most other professions. The group recommended that the industry continue efforts to reduce hazards and target high-risk operations and groups of workers within the industry.

The CDC found that fall protection was regulated in 86 percent of fatal falls during this time. Unfortunately, either protection “was not used, was used improperly or the equipment failed.” In 24 of those 63 fatal falls, 15 workers were wearing their safety harness but fell anyway because their harnesses weren’t attached to an anchor point. A verbal check between the driller and the derrickman before drilling operations began might have saved their lives. Taking this step could have reminded the derrickman to connect to the self-retracting lifeline and a restraint system on the derrick board.

Improved Training and Hiring Practices

When it comes to offshore drilling and the desire to dig deeper, inexperience can play a role. LiveScience reported that in the Deepwater Horizon incident, “BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles acknowledged that many of his company’s efforts to stop the oil leak failed because they had never had to plug a well at such depths and were therefore unprepared for the conditions that foiled their attempts, including ice formation inside of the original containment dome due to freezing deep water temperatures.” Indeed, the rig broke new ground and was the world’s deepest offshore well before it exploded and sank.

Oilfields are in a state of near-constant motion, with workers coming on and off the job frequently. Employers can make sure that when projects shift, signage is placed in correct areas and that new workers are onboarded with everything they need to know about safety hazards and procedures.

Slack & Davis Has a Proven Record In Oilfield Accident Cases

If you were injured or a loved one was killed while working on an oil rig, you may feel helpless to stand up to a powerful multinational corporation. The lawyers at Slack & Davis have decades of experience seeking just compensation for workers and their families whose lives were forever changed as a result of an oilfield accident. Our experts will combine a deep understanding of the complex set of laws and regulations in the oil and gas industry with compassion for your situation to secure a favorable settlement in your personal injury or wrongful death case.

What Happens When a Case Goes to Trial?

What happens when a case goes to trial

If you are trying to make a decision about whether or not to file a personal injury lawsuit, you may be wondering about the process. Let’s say you have a lawyer who has agreed to take your case. What happens next? And how likely is it that you will end up in court? Let’s answer some of the most common questions our plaintiffs have about when a case goes to trial.

What Happens When a Case Goes to Trial?

You might be surprised to learn that, in the United States, of those cases that don’t get dismissed by the court, only four to five percent of personal injury cases go to trial. That means that about 95% of cases are settled out of court. But before we talk about what happens in court, let’s back up and review how your case actually gets to court.

Meeting With An Attorney

Once you think that you may have a claim against a business or individual for causing you harm, you’ll speak with a personal injury lawyer. Many attorneys offer free case evaluations, so that you can determine whether you have a claim that could be successful. When you have your first meeting, you’ll provide information to the lawyer about what led you to want to file a lawsuit and answer a series of questions. The more information you can provide to your attorney, the better he or she will be able to determine the best next steps. In addition to discussing the details surrounding your case, the lawyer will talk to you about practical matters, such as the different expenses and fees and how long they believe it will take to resolve your case. Most, if not all, personal injury lawyers work on a contingent fee basis. That means that you don’t pay for any expenses, including the lawyer’s fees, unless they win your case. If the lawyer agrees to take your case, you’ll sign a representation agreement stating that they will officially be your attorney for this particular case.

Filing Papers and Fact-Finding

At the beginning of a lawsuit, your attorney will file court documents stating the facts that support your claims and who you are suing. In Texas, these documents are called the “original petition.” In addition, your attorney will prepare and file what are known as a “summons,” which is a notice to the defendant about your lawsuit, and “service of process,” which is the procedure by which notice of the lawsuit is actually given to the defendant. The defendant typically has a limited time in which to respond to your original petition. When responding to an original petition, a defendant will usually just file what is known as an “original answer.” In this original answer, the defendant will often just generally deny everything in your original petition until the defendant has a chance to discover more facts about the lawsuit you have filed.

After your original petition is filed, the “discovery” process begins. Discovery is a term used to describe written requests for information from the defendant and any non-parties that may be helpful to your case. Such requests include written questions (interrogatories), requests for production of documents and inspection of premises or land where the injury occurred, and depositions. Depositions are interviews of witnesses, which are documented by a court reporter and involve an attorney asking the witness a series of questions. Interrogatories are written questions submitted to the defendant that are to be answered and sworn to in writing. Both sides must have access to all the documents which relate to the case. The defendant can and will apply these same discovery requests and procedures to you as well.

Resolving Your Case Before Trial

Much of what happens before a case can go to trial is known as “motion practice.” Motions are requests filed by lawyers asking the court to decide an issue relevant to the case. Such decisions are known as “rulings.” Some rulings might even end the lawsuit before it ever goes to trial. For example, the defendant might file a motion to dismiss. A motion to dismiss the case might be filed for:

  • Lack of subject matter jurisdiction (the court doesn’t have the legal authority to rule on your case)
  • Lack of personal jurisdiction (the court doesn’t have legal authority over the defendant because the defendant resides outside of the court’s “jurisdiction”)
  • Improper venue (the lawsuit hasn’t been filed in the correct court)
  • Insufficient service of process (the defendant wasn’t given proper notice of the lawsuit)
  • Failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted (there is no legal remedy for the harm caused you often because either the defendant’s conduct isn’t considered wrongful in the eyes of the law or your harm cannot be actually traced to the defendant’s wrongful conduct)

Once the case is further along in the discovery process, the defendant may also file what is known as a motion for summary judgment. A motion for summary judgment will be granted if the defendant can show that you, as the plaintiff, cannot prove some element of your claim. Typically, in a personal injury lawsuit, a plaintiff must have evidence to support each element of his or her claim. A negligence claim, for example, consists of the following three elements: 1) a wrongful or negligent act or omission on the defendant’s part, 2) a duty owed to the plaintiff by the defendant not to commit that wrongful or negligent act, and 3) a harm to the plaintiff caused by that negligent or wrongful act or omission. If you do not have sufficient evidence to support each and every one of the above elements, then summary judgment could be granted against you and your claim will be permanently denied.

That being said, legal claims are often resolved before trial through a negotiated settlement process. When this happens, the plaintiff agrees not to pursue any further legal action in exchange for a payment from the defendant or insurance company. In many instances, both parties may agree to mediate the case prior to the case going to trial. In a mediation, both parties present evidence that supports their claims while a neutral party—the mediator—tries to get the two sides try to agree on a settlement amount. If the parties do not agree, the case often then proceeds to trial.

When Your Case Goes To Trial

What does going to trial mean, exactly? If you are involved in a personal injury case, a trial provides the opportunity for the plaintiff to argue his or her case so that the judge or jury can examine the evidence, decide what really happened and rule on whether to find the defendant liable or responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries.

Typically, a personal injury trial consists of choosing a jury, opening statements by the lawyers for each side, witness testimony and cross-examination, closing arguments by each side, jury instructions given by the court and deliberation—that is consideration of all the facts and the law that applies—by the jurors. Once the jurors have made their decision, a verdict will be issued by the court.

After jury selection, each side has a chance to make its case in opening statements. The witness testimony and cross-examination stage is the main part of the trial. The plaintiff works to convince the jury that the defendant is liable for the damages or harm caused to the plaintiff. Witnesses and experts are called to testify, in which they take an oath to be truthful and answer questions asked by each side’s attorneys.

Once both sides present their case, closing arguments offer once last chance to convince the jury before their deliberations begin. The judge provides specific instructions to the jury to help them make their decision and then the jurors consider the case as a group. Once the jury has made a decision, the judge announces the verdict.

What Happens After a Trial in Court?

If you win the case, the defendant is often required to pay monetary damages. Ordinarily, an insurance company is involved and payment of your damages should not be a problem, because the insurance company is prepared for this very type of situation. However, in some cases, when the jury or judge awards you damages in your personal injury lawsuit, the losing party may not have insurance or may refuse to pay the judgment amount or follow the court order. In most states, you can locate a person’s sources of income or assets during post-judgment discovery. You may even be able to collect your settlement from the opposing side’s paychecks.

Slack & Davis Can Help You During All Stages of Your Personal Injury Case

Our legal team at Slack & Davis has the experience and skills to guide you through each stage of the process. Whether it’s asking the right questions to gather information to support your side, investigating the defendant to help the judge and jury understand how the defendant could have avoided hurting you if it had just done the right thing, presenting evidence at trial or helping you secure a settlement, our attorneys will be with you every step of the way.

Part 23 Reform & What it Could Pose

The Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) are rules set forth by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) governing all aviation activities in the United States. The rules includes Part 23, which details airworthiness standards required for issuance and change of type certifications for certain airplanes, as well as determines special aspects of aircraft performance.

In 2016, the FAA released a final rule to streamline the certification process, and it was deemed a victory for many in the aviation world, providing groundbreaking provisions for aircraft manufacturers. The new rule allows manufacturers to use performance-based standards in place of prescriptive manufacturing methods that have slowed down development of new designs and technologies and caused aircraft certification costs to sky rocket. The new certification process will remove certification categories, such as utility and aerobic and, instead, use four levels of performance and risk testing based on the aircraft’s seating capacity.

Despite the advantages to the aircraft manufacturers, Part 23 reform could pose some serious consequences for the rights and safety of passengers. Under the new rule, if an aircraft meets the airworthiness requirements set forth in the Part 23 certification process, the manufacturer will not be held responsible if a crash occurs due to defective parts, dangerous designs, negligence or failure to warn of a known hazard.

Part 23 aircrafts are also known to have a history of accidents and safety issues. The reform of this rule would take away the ability to hold manufacturers liable for defective parts and allow them to continue producing unsafe aircrafts. The reformed certification is meant to bring much needed technological and safety improvements; however, there has been very little light shed on its dangers to consumers, which should have been weighed heavily in this decision.

The attorneys at Slack & Davis have handled many cases involving Part 23 aircrafts. If you or a loved one have been involved in an aviation accident and need help, call us for more information at (800) 455-8686.

Slack & Davis in Best Lawyers® Business Ed.

Partners Mike Davis, John Jose, Ladd Sanger, Michael Slack, and Of Counsel Paula Sweeney were included in the Best Lawyers® Business Edition for their plaintiffs’ work in personal injury litigation.

For more than three decades, Best Lawyers® has become regarded as the definitive guide to legal professionalism and excellence around the globe. Best Lawyers® is based on an exhaustive peer-review survey where more than 52,000 leading attorneys cast 5.5.million votes on the legal abilities of other lawyers in more than 130 practice areas.

Read the full Business Edition.

Common Construction Site Injuries

Common Construction Site Injuries

A report released by The Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that over 9 million Americans worked in the construction industry in 2014. Unfortunately, construction frequently lands on lists of the most dangerous occupations in the U.S. In fact, one in five fatalities that occurred on the job in 2014 took place on a construction site. We’ll discuss which injuries are most common in this line of work and what workers can do if they experience an injury on a job site.

Common Construction Site Injuries

Each day, almost six and a half million construction workers head to over 250,000 sites across the country. Working in construction involves manual labor and the use of a variety of hand and power tools. Although the specific tasks can vary, workers might clear and prepare sites for new builds, build bridges, create trenches, set up support braces or scaffolding, operate heavy equipment, pave roads, demolish existing structures and clean up debris and rubble. The dangerous nature of these tasks makes construction workers particularly vulnerable to a wide range of injuries.  

Burns

Working with electrical wiring, chemicals, leaky pipes and many different types of machinery can expose construction workers to the risk of fires, which can lead to burns and scarring.

Head Injuries

The reason that you often see construction workers wearing hard hats is that injuries to this part of the body are common while on the job. Falling objects, tools and materials can lead to cuts, concussions and traumatic brain injuries, among other conditions. Workers who are involved in digging or building a structure from the ground up are particularly at risk for these types of injuries.

Spinal Cord Injuries

The activities most commonly associated with spinal cord injuries at a construction site involve falling off ladders, scaffolding or other elevated platforms or areas. Sadly, these situations can result in partial or full paralysis, damage to the brain and lasting and debilitating disabilities.

Cuts

Not surprisingly, lacerations to the skin are a common construction site injury. Some of the more common construction site hazards that can lead to cuts include defective or poorly maintained tools and machinery, equipment that is not properly secured and exposed nails. If not properly treated, these wounds can become infected, requiring further medical attention. Wearing protective clothing and gear can help reduce these types of injuries.

Bone Injuries

The use of heavy machinery can lead to broken, fractured or even crushed bones. Equipment like bulldozers and cranes can cause serious damage to workers on a construction site if used by someone with improper training. Additionally, this type of equipment can lead to accidents if not properly secured when not in use.

Loss of Limbs

Damage to a construction worker’s extremities can result in the loss of a finger, toe, arm or leg. Heavy equipment and machinery can crush these body parts. In some cases, limbs or digits are so damaged in a construction accident that amputation is required.

Hearing Loss

Construction sites are loud places. The noise generated from heavy equipment and machinery can lead to construction workers’ hearing damage or loss. Workers can experience damage when operating jackhammers and other loud equipment without ear protection or if struck on the side of the head or on the ear by an object or falling materials.

Repetitive Stress Injuries

The manual labor required in the construction industry involves repetitive motion, whether it’s lifting materials or tools or bending down. Repetitive stress injuries frequently cause back problems, which can prove to be debilitating for construction workers.

Heat Stroke

Working outside year-round can expose construction workers to heat-related health problems. A throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea and cramping can indicate that a worker is experiencing heat stroke. If an individual does not seek treatment, heat stroke can lead to organ damage and failure and eventually death.

Loss of Vision

Construction workers are exposed to a variety of chemicals, gases and other materials at job sites which can damage eyesight. In the most severe cases, exposure to these materials can lead to partial vision loss or even blindness.

Avoiding Injuries on the Job Site

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was established by Congress to set and enforce workplace safety standards and provide training. OSHA recommends that companies include all necessary safety equipment and tools when estimating the cost of a job. Workers should receive proper training in the use of all heavy machinery, equipment and protective gear. All tools should be well-maintained and in proper working condition. Regular safety inspections can spot potential problems before workers are put at risk.

What To Do If You or a Loved One is Involved in a Construction Site Accident

Damages sustained as a result of a construction site injury can be serious and long-lasting. In most cases, a victim can submit a claim under their state’s workers’ compensation program. However, in some cases, they may be eligible to seek additional compensation through a “third party claim.” These cases may involve the wrongful act of someone else, such as when a tool or machine malfunctions or if an individual is involved in a motor accident on the job.

The dedicated professionals at Slack & Davis can help advise victims on all of their options. In some situations, they may be entitled to compensation to help offset the financial loss if they are unable to resume work, if they have a lasting disability or if they suffered a more serious injury, paralysis or even death. The attorneys at Slack and Davis understand how serious injuries can impact a worker and their family’s day-to-day life. We have worked with many victims to help them get them the compensation they deserve to meet their immediate and long-term needs.