26th February 2020
A lot of jobs can be dangerous, but the oil and gas industry is one of the deadliest, especially when it comes to working in an oilfield. When asked about the high number of severe injuries in the occupation, OSHA chief David Michaels responded with, “It’s not at all surprising. It’s consistent with the very high fatality rate.”
In 2016, the rate of severe injuries went down quite a bit, following the decline of oilfield employment. This also followed an improving safety record, but how safe is it now?
When it comes to severe injuries, oil-field workers take the cake for the most injured. Out of 234,403 employed in 2016, there were 349 severely injured. That’s a rate of 148.9 per 100,000. That’s more than industrial building construction, which follows behind at 133.5 per 100,000.
Common Oilfield Injuries
Severe injuries, as noted above, are very common on the oilfield. Severe injuries is a broad term. How are workers actually getting injured and what’s causing the high rates? Michaels says that, “Many employers don’t accurately record their injuries.” However, he also believes that severe injuries are more accurately reported because they’re harder to ignore.
“No one says ‘keep working’ when someone’s lost a body part,” Michaels stated. However, severe injuries can be more than losing a body part. They can be head injuries, burns, broken bones, and more.
Head and Brain Injuries
There are many types of head and brain injuries, but the most common ones are concussions, skull and facial fractures, and facial lacerations. Concussions can be serious as repeat injuries can be cause for even more concern. Brain injuries can cause memory problems as well as leave you with permanent neurological damage.
Neck and Back Injuries
These types of injuries are also very common in the oilfield industry because of the amount of heavy lifting workers are required to do. Proper technique must be followed to lift these heavy items, but proper training is not always provided. Slippery work conditions like bad weather or uncleared paths may also be a cause of these potentially fatal injuries. Explosions and other serious events can also cause these injuries and more.
There are many different types of bone injuries, like fracture, dislocation, spraining, and complete break of the bone. Broken bones can occur when working with defective equipment or from falling or loss of footing. Being caught between or pressed against something by equipment is also known to cause broken bones. Some of these injuries can heal on their own, but when serious, they do require medical attention. In some truly severe cases, loss of limb can occur as well.
Arm, Hand, Leg, and Foot Injuries
These can range from total decapitation to something minor like a fracture or sprain. Hands and arms especially are at risk when working with defective or dangerous equipment, especially if the proper procedures aren’t followed. The loss of arms, legs, hands, fingers, and toes is common in this line of work because of the equipment used.
First degree, second degree, and third degree burns can all occur in oilfields, and can be worse depending on the burning material. A small fire might not cause a bad burn, but an explosion could seriously burn and further injure anyone close by.
Soft Tissue Injuries
Soft tissue injuries like the tearing of a muscle or tendon are fairly common in oilfields. Any job that requires repetitive movement can cause its employees to be exposed to this kind of soft tissue damage. These injuries can vary from mild to severe depending on the way in which the injury occurred.
Common Oilfield Accidents
Because the oilfield industry is such a dangerous one, the list of accidents that can occur can be pretty daunting. Explosions, equipment failure, and unsafe conditions are all possible in oilfields. These employees require intense training on the equipment being used, but that’s not always necessary. Sometimes employers hire whoever’s available even if that means they’re hiring an under-trained worker.
Drilling sites feature incredibly large and dangerous pieces of equipment. They’re required for pulling pipe, drilling, mixing mud, and many other jobs that occur on the worksite. These types of equipment are large and heavy. When they’re faulty, the results can be fatal. Heavy machinery on work sites is required to be safe for workers to use, meaning that it must be well maintained. These workers are also required to be provided with adequate training for operations and safety. When an employee isn’t trained correctly, or when the equipment isn’t up-to-code, that’s when accidents happen.
Explosions and Fires
Wells, trucks, and tanks can all release different types of flammable gases. These can be ignited easily by any type of fire starter, such as open flame, static electricity, or other heated elements. Explosions and fires are especially dangerous because of the amount of flammable activity. This can cause explosions and fires to spread quickly, injuring more people.
An uncontrolled release of oil during the drilling process is called a well blowout. As with most accidents, these are the result of failing machinery, specifically the pressure control systems in the wells. Well blowouts are not specifically dangerous on their own, but if they ignited, they could become extremely dangerous oil fires.
Poorly Maintained Worksites
As with any case, a poorly maintained worksite can lead to many different injuries. Whether these be slips, trips, and falls, or explosions, they can all be very dangerous. Open heating elements, sparking equipment, or anything that is improperly maintained can lead to injury.
Slips, Trips, and Falls
Slips, trips, and falls go hand-in-hand with poorly maintained workspaces. Improper lighting or pathways can cause these accidents. While they may not cause serious injury all the time, it’s always possible. These types of accidents are very common in oil fields, especially in challenging outdoor environments. Workers are required to work long hours, and tripping is especially likely in sleep-deprived people.
Working in Confined Spaces
Storage containers and storage tanks are two of the different kinds of confined spaces oil field workers may have to work in. In these small spaces, accidents like explosions and fires become much more deadly. These spaces are also prone to crushing accidents or exposure to hazardous chemicals.
Hazardous Chemicals and Fumes
Toxic chemicals in the oilfield industry include Benzene, Sulfur Dioxide, Nitrogen Oxide, Petroleum Coke, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, and Hydrofluoric Acid. Those are a lot of big words for a lot of dangerous chemicals. Benzene has been linked to leukemia, as well as breast and urinary cancers. Benzene exposure can also cause decreased white cell production. Sulfur dioxide can also cause lung cancer, heart attacks, and other cardiopulmonary diseases. Clearly these hazardous chemicals and fumes are incredibly dangerous to human bodies, but oilfield workers are still exposed to these types of chemicals on a regular basis.
Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer
If you or someone you love has been injured in an oilfield accident, you may be entitled to compensation for your injury. If you’re located in North Dakota, contact one of our lawyers here at Sand Law. You can contact us online or at 701-609-1510.