27th May 2020
The boom in the North Dakota fossil fuel industry has created lucrative jobs for many long-term and new residents in North Dakota. This boom has led to many high paying jobs, better standards of living than many people could have hoped for, and a future for people’s children that they didn’t have themselves. But, unfortunately, those wages can come with some seriously high risks. Oil drilling and extraction is an inherently dangerous undertaking with a fatality rate that is 5 times greater than most other industries. In fact, 2018 saw 13 deaths for every 100 full-time oil industry employees.
Oilfield Injury Accidents on the Rise
According to the CDC, as the number of rigs in the United States increases, so does the number of fatalities. In 2017, the number of rigs increased to 876 from 510 rigs in the previous year. Likewise, fatal accidents spiked from 29 to a total of 69.
What Makes Oil Field Accidents So Deadly?
On-shore and off-shore drilling exposes employees to both environmental and chemical hazards. One of the most prominent risks on an oil rig is fire. Hydrogen sulfide, one of the many chemicals that is abundant in oil fields, is highly flammable. It can also be deadly when inhaled at high concentrations.
Another major cause of fatal accidents is worker fatigue. Fatigue can be connected to the long hours worked, often well beyond the typical eight hour work day most Americans have. Compared to the average U.S. employee, oil and gas operator employees work up to 27% more hours on a weekly basis. These exhausted workers are more prone to mistakes and they are slower to react in the face of danger.
Oilfield Safety Regulations
The oil and gas drilling industry must adhere to OSHA’s General Duty Clause. Working areas should be free of hazards including dangerous instruments, leaks, and spills.
Employers are responsible for providing workers with various forms of protection. This includes safety equipment such as hard hats and harnesses, fire-retardant clothing, as well as protection for the face and respiratory system. Employers should also take preventative measures regarding fires and explosions and they should have emergency plans in place.
Adequate training must be provided so that employees know how to work safely and how to respond to emergencies on the job.
Common Oilfield Accidents that lead to Death
Pipelines run for millions of miles across the country. One catches on fire every four days, leading to a fatality every 26 days.
In oilfields, fires are incredibly difficult to quench. Wells provide a steady supply of oil, so fire spreads quickly, leaving few opportunities for workers to escape safely. Smoke inhalation has the ability to incapacitate workers before fire even reaches them.
An oil rig platform can weigh beyond 120,000 tons. They should have the structural integrity to endure extreme pressure and harsh elements, but when they are poorly designed or inadequately maintained, they can collapse unexpectedly. Employees may end up fatally crushed in an instant or trapped under the rubble with no hope of rescue.
Falls from dangerous heights are not uncommon on an oil rig. Tools that are dropped from these heights can also severely injure other employees upon landing. Noisy machinery including drills, cranes, and forklifts only make these types of accidents more difficult to prevent. They can distract employees and cloud communication needed to safely maneuver and transport materials.
Determining Liability in Fatal Oilfield Accidents
In most fatal oilfield accident cases, the deceased employee is not at fault. Generally the fault lies with coworkers, employers, outside contractors, other third parties, or a combination of those parties.
Because of the numerous parties involved on an oil field, the details of each case need to be thoroughly evaluated to determine liability. For example, if an employee has a fatal fall under the guidance of a manager, the manager could be at fault. However, if it is determined that that manager was put in charge without proper training, the manager may not be at fault after all.
Oilfields rely on a variety of transportation vehicles. If an accident occurs because a vehicle was not properly maintained by a hired third party, then that third party could be fully at fault. Depending on the nature of the accident, the third party may share fault with the deceased worker’s employer.
Eligibility and Compensation in Wrongful Death Cases
In the event that an oilfield accident leads to a death, the surviving loved ones can seek compensation for financial losses. This includes expenses such as medical and funeral costs as well as loss of income. A loved one is irreplaceable, but the negligent parties can also be required to compensate for emotional pain and suffering.
When to Hire a Wrongful Death Attorney
After an oilfield accident, corporations and insurance companies do everything in their power to protect their reputations and their bottom line. They may urge you to quickly settle for a small amount; they may try to deny your claim altogether.
If your loved one has suffered a serious injury or lost his or her life as a result of an oilfield accident, speak to one of our compassionate lawyers at Sand Law. Our attorneys have a vast array of experience in this complex industry. We will advocate for your family and work diligently to get you the maximum compensation for your loss. Call Sand Law in North Dakota today at 701-609-1510 or contact us online.
Feature Image by WORKSITE Ltd.