Under federal law, workers are entitled to a safe workplace free of known health and safety hazards, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Workers have rights, including the right to speak up about safety concerns without fear of retaliation, to be trained in a language you can understand, and to be provided with safety gear to protect you as you work.
OSHA is also responsible for safety regulations in the workplace. However, the oil and gas extraction industry is unique in that it is largely exempt from the OSHA standards that could potentially make the industry safer for workers. In January 2018, there was an oil rig explosion in Oklahoma that claimed the lives of five workers. The natural gas rig where those workers were drilling is exempt from OSHA’s “Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals (PSM)” regulations, which are in place to minimize the, “the consequences of catastrophic releases of toxic, reactive, flammable, or explosive chemicals.”
Instead, oil and gas drilling operations are governed by OSHA’s General Duty Clause, which also governs the safety of office workers. When a tragedy occurs such as the explosion in Oklahoma earlier this year, it can be challenging for OSHA inspectors to cite violations under general duty.
Safety violations can lead to the death of oil and gas workers
The Bakken Shale is one of the most dangerous places in the U.S. for workers. An article in Energy & Environment News reports that North Dakota had the highest worker fatality rate in the nation in 2012 (17.7 per 100,000) – five times the national average. In the oil and gas production sector, that rate was 104 per 100,000 workers – 30 times the national average.
Eric Brooks, an OSHA inspector in the Bakken, said that in a safety sweep in 2013, inspectors cited violations in 50% of the wells they visited. In the EE News article, Brooks quotes OSHA’s assessment of the oil drilling industry and their role in trying to regulate it. “OSHA believes that the current general industry standards inadequately address the unique hazards encountered during drilling,” he says. “OSHA believes this lack of adequate regulatory protection has contributed to the high number of deaths and injuries in this industry.”
As attorneys, we have worked with oil field workers who sustained serious injuries in the patch. We’ve also worked with their families, when those workers paid the ultimate price. We do not want the industry to go away; we just want better protections in place for the men and women who work in the field. After all this time, it seems incredible that no additional safety regulations have been placed on companies, and that the design and creation of better safety equipment is not a top priority.
Oilfields and gas extraction is dangerous work. If you get hurt on the job, we are here to help. At Larson Law Firm, P.C., we want to help your family when another party’s actions have led to injury or loss in the workplace. Take legal action now and reach out to a North Dakota oil field accident attorney at 701-484-4878, or fill out our contact form.