While it’s true that every workplace comes with its own set of hazards and potential dangers, some are riskier than others. This is particularly true for the oil and gas industry, which – according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics – accounted for 1,566 worker fatalities between 2008 and 2017, or over 150 energy industry deaths each year. With these numbers in mind, it’s important to examine how oil and gas companies can operate their dangerous workplaces in a manner that prevents fatal accidents and injuries.
Working in the oil and gas industry presents many different hazards for employees. In fact, the fatality rate for these workers is seven times higher than other industries according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Being able to identify the main reasons why fatalities and injuries are so high in the oil and gas industry can help employers provide safer working conditions. Some of the ways employers, owners, and operators can help prevent oil industry accidents include:
Just like in many other industries, highway accidents are a top cause of oil and gas employee fatalities. This is often due to the long, irregular work hours employees often endure, while also driving on secondary and unpaved roads and traveling in poor weather conditions. In order to prevent tragic incidents, it’s important to establish and enforce driver safety policies.
Appropriate safety policies can help keep employees safe from driving hazards like distractions, fatigue, and poor weather conditions. Employers should also ensure their company-owned vehicles are properly maintained and that all employee driving records are checked periodically for updated violations and incidents.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), three out of five on-site fatalities are caused by employees being struck by, caught-in, or caught between machines and other materials. Moving vehicles, heavy equipment, high pressure hoses and lines, and overhead cranes and cables are all elements that can contribute to oil and gas workplace injures. In order to prevent these incidents, employers should mandate engineering controls like vehicle alarms, whip checks on hose lines, and install barriers around storage areas to promote safety on the job. Signage can also be used to increase the visibility of new or changing hazards and to reinforce safety precautions.
Monitoring weather conditions, including temperature, lightning, wind, and humidity, can actually help prevent fires from occurring in the oil industry. This is because everything from open flames and idled engines to site lighting and hot work are all hazardous elements at work in oil and gas sites. Other hazards – like flammable vapors and hydrogen sulfide – are easy to smell, but elements like static electricity and changing weather conditions are much harder to predict.
Monitoring oxygen levels and flammable vapors can help decrease the potential for an explosion throughout a worksite. Installing shutdown systems, intake flame arrestors, and exhaust spark arrests on equipment and machinery can also provide a warning that conditions are approaching unsafe levels.
Because many oil and gas worksites are outdoors and in large, open areas, the work that is done in confined spaces can sometimes be overlooked. Those who perform work in storage tanks, mud and reserve pits, areas around wellheads, and other confined spaces must be properly trained and aware of hazards like asphyxiation, ignition of flammable vapors, and entrapment, among others.
Hazardous, uncontrolled electrical, hydraulic, or mechanical energy can also present a harmful environment for workers who are not properly trained. Even if equipment is properly designed, installed, maintained, and grounded, injuries and fatalities can still occur if it is not operated correctly. Clearly marking ground connections, posting operating procedures, and strictly adhering to procedures before repairs are made can help keep employees safe.
Oil and gas work is often performed in extreme weather conditions and requires the lifting of heavy objects, reaching overhead, pushing or pulling large loads, and many bending and repetitive tasks that can lead to injury or fall. Failing to guard openings, ladders, open pits, floor holes, and stairs are all top violations cited during OSHA inspections. Because of this, fences, railings, and other forms of fall protection should be implemented, along with the required use of personal fall harnesses for all workers, as both can help decrease the likelihood of a fatal fall.
While there are many different ways employers can reduce the likelihood of oil and gas workplace injuries or fatalities, these incidents can and will still occur. No matter the severity, an experienced personal injury attorney can help determine what caused an injury and if compensation can be obtained. At Ramsey Law Group, our Houston personal injury lawyers have successfully represented injured workers for over 20 years. If you or someone you know has been injured due to unsafe working conditions, contact us today to see how we can help you.