Injured in a Oilfield Accident or Explosion? Here’s What You Need to Know to Protect Yourself and Your Family
Working in the oil and gas industry pays more than most jobs: it’s not uncommon for oilfield workers to have six-figure wages, especially during a drilling boom.
But the oil industry’s high pay reflects the many safety risks that come with the job. Not only are oil field workers exposed to kicks, blowouts and massive explosions, but they’re also operating heavy equipment while facing tremendous pressure to extract as much oil and gas as they can, as quickly as possible.
As a result of these hazards, the upstream oil and gas industry has one of the highest severe injury rates in the United States. When these preventable accidents occur, oilfield workers and their families often neglect to take the necessary steps to protect their rights and ensure that they and their families are fully and fairly compensated for all their injuries and damages.
Common Oilfield Accidents
While oilfield accidents—like the Chesapeake blowout and explosion that tragically killed three contractors in Burleson County, Texas on January 29, 2020—are fairly rare, smaller explosions, fires, and accidents occur far more frequently.
Some of the most common hazards while working in the oilfield include:
- Transportation Accidents: Oilfield truck crashes and other transportation-related accidents are the leading cause of death in the oil and gas industry, causing roughly four out of every 10 fatalities. Long and irregular work hours, fatigue, poor road conditions, and traveling in inclement weather are the top contributors to these accidents
- Blowouts and Explosions: because drilling, completions, and workovers almost always involves exposure to volatile gases and hydrocarbons, any kick, leak, spill, or spark has the potential to trigger a catastrophic blowout and explosion
- Hazardous Environments and Confined Spaces: Confined spaces, including cellars, storage tanks, mud and reserve pits, and areas surrounding the wellheads, expose oilfield workers to a number of serious hazards. It’s critical that OSHA safety laws are followed and that all workers and contractors receive proper training to avoid risks of asphyxiation and exposure to harmful and flammable gases and vapors
- Electrical Hazards: Uncontrolled electrical, hydraulic, or mechanical energy can also endanger rig workers. Clearly marking ground connections, posting operating procedures, and strictly adhering to lockout/tagout procedures before repairs will decrease the risk for serious and fatal accidents
Risk Factors for Oilfield Accidents and Explosions
Oil and gas companies are obligated, by state and federal law, to provide a safe workplace to their employees and contractors. Unfortunately, in the rush to extract as much oil and gas as possible, it’s common for oilfield operators to cut corners and place profits over the safety and welfare of their workers.
Some of the leading risk factors for drilling rig and oilfield accidents, injuries, and deaths include:
- Inadequate Safety Procedures: Drillers sometimes forgo vital safety checks, neglect to maintain equipment, perform timely repairs, and ensure workers are properly trained in safety procedures and protocols
- Inexperienced Workers: During a drilling boom, oilfield workers are usually in short supply. Drilling companies may be forced to hire workers who lack the training and experience to perform their jobs safely
- Employee Fatigue: Oilfield employees routinely work long hours, irregular shifts, and overtime, especially during boom times. The fatigue many of these workers experience often contributes to serious and fatal oilfield and drilling rig accidents
- Location and Isolation: Many oilfields are located in remote, rural areas far from major hospitals and trauma centers.
What to Do After an Oilfield Accident or Explosion
After a serious oilfield accident or explosion, the company and their insurers will do just about anything to avoid responsibility and pay you and your family as little as possible for your injuries and damages. The actions you take in the days and weeks following the accident will often determine whether or not you receive the compensation you deserve for your injuries and financial losses.
- Notify Your Supervisor Right Away: Timely notification is not only required to collect workers’ compensation benefits but also documents the work-related nature of your injuries, the timing of the accident, and demonstrates that you took your injuries seriously
- Demand Immediate Medical Care of Your Choice: Even if you think your injuries are minor, you should demand to be checked out by the medical provider of YOUR CHOICE immediately after the accident. Sometimes seemingly minor injuries are the first indication that something is seriously wrong. Your medical records will also provide important documentation of your injuries, treatment, and prognosis
- Document Your Account of the Incident in Writing: Make a written account of the accident at the first opportunity, including everything you remember about the incident and contact information for any witnesses. Take photos of the scene, if possible, and be sure to preserve the clothes you were wearing and any other physical evidence in your possession
- Keep All Medical Appointments and Follow Your Doctor’s Advice: Your employer, its insurance company, and its workers’ compensation provider will view any skipped appointments or failure to follow medical advice as an opportunity to dispute the severity of your injuries. You should also keep a written record of your care, including co-pays and the cost of any prescription medications and medical supplies related to your treatment
- Don’t Trust the Drilling Company to Make Things Right: Whatever you do, DO NOT give a formal statement, sign ANY paperwork, or accept any money from the company (other than your regular paycheck) before speaking with an experienced personal injury lawyer who has successfully represented injured rig workers and their families. You should also avoid discussing your accident or injuries on social media, with co-workers, and with anyone other than your attorney or spouse
- Contact an Experienced Oilfield Injury Lawyer: If you do attempt to negotiate on your own, the insurance company and its attorneys will only continue to downplay your injuries, blame you for the accident, and make inadequate settlement offers. The longer this “negotiation; lasts, the less likely you are to obtain the compensation needed to cover all of your injuries and losses.
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