Are Fines Actually Saving Any Oil Field Workers’ Lives?

If you live in North Dakota, you’re overly aware of what the oil industry means for the state’s economy. It’s paramount to keeping cities running and people employed. The oil industry is also known to be one of the most dangerous fields of work out there. Going into this line of work has to come with a certain amount of confidence and faith that you’ll make it home at the end of each day as long as you do everything just right.

What can’t be controlled is whether the company you work for will do everything properly on its end. No matter how careful you are, you can only eliminate a certain amount of on-the-job risk. The rest is up to the oil company when it comes to maintaining equipment, following safety protocols, and behaving ethically. When a company fails at any of these steps, it costs oil field workers their lives. The question is whether the deterrents in place to prevent compromising safety are enough to also prevent oil field deaths.

  • Hilcorp was just fined $25,000 for negligently causing the death of a roughneck working one of their Alaskan oil rigs. The man died after a 700 pound drilling pipe was accidentally released, hitting him in the head, while the operator was distracted. A state investigation showed that in addition to allowing a worker to pass under a suspended load, that the company also had employees clean the bloody accident area with bare hands potentially exposing other workers to illnesses. Kuukpik Drilling, a contractor of Hilcorp, also paid $30,000 in fines for violations that included failure to protect the worker from job hazards.
  • In North Dakota, a man was killed in May after also being struck in the head by a heavy rod when the wrong coupling was used to hold the rod. Brigade Energy Services, a Colorado company, was fined $13,260 for their negligence.
  • C&J Well Services, a Texas company, was fined $500,000 for the 2014 death of an oil field worker in North Dakota after they failed to properly train the man who died in a preventable explosion.

In the 10 years between 2008 and 2018, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited 10,873 safety violations in the oil industry. Sixty-four percent of these violations were categorized as “serious,” where hazards would likely result in “death or serious physical harm;” and 3 percent were “repeated [or] willful” where violations occurred regularly or showed intentional disregard for the law and safety.

It raises the question of whether fines actually affect enforcement of safety protocols, or even whether increasing those amounts would make for safer oil fields if the company stands to lose more. Overall, the answer is likely no, as OSHA has a history of significantly reducing fines provided hazards are remedied and settlements are made quickly.

It’s a reality of the oil and gas industry that workers should understand their legal rights in the event of injury or death. The North Dakota oil field injury attorneys at Larson Law Firm, P.C. want to help you. To speak with one of our fiercely dedicated attorneys, schedule your free consultation in our Bismarck or Minot office by calling 701-484-4878, or reach out to us through our contact page.


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