Careers in oil and gas extraction are among the riskiest jobs in the U.S. This means employers running oil rigs must take worker safety seriously. But unfortunately, not every company follows federal and state safety regulations. As a result, far too many oil rig workers in Texas and throughout the U.S. are injured or die in catastrophic accidents that could have been prevented.
In Texas, there were about 24 worker fatalities and 1,400 nonfatal work injuries reported in 2020 for the state’s mining, oil, and gas extraction industries, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Fatal oil rig accidents were mainly caused by three types of dangerous events: transportation incidents, exposure to harmful substances, and contact with objects.
Common causes of Texas oilfield accidents
Oilfield and oil rig accidents are significant incidents that have the potential to cause serious, life-changing injuries and fatalities.
Employers are required to protect employees and reduce health risks by taking their safety seriously. However, not every company follows the rules. Oil drilling is expensive work, and oil rig workers are under great pressure to push through pain and setbacks to meet deadlines.
Overexertion and putting profits above employee health puts workers at risk for injuries, illness, or even death. Working on an oil rig is one of the most deadly jobs a person can have.
When they are not deadly, some of the injuries most frequently suffered by oil rig workers include amputation, burns, disfigurement, traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), spinal cord injuries (SCIs), hand injuries, and fractured bones. These injuries can lead to chronic pain and permanent disabilities. They can also affect the injured worker's quality of life.
All oil rig workers and visitors to oilfields face some risks due to the unpredictable nature of extraction, but some jobs pose a greater danger to worker safety than others. Among the most dangerous jobs on an oil rig are:
- Derrick operator (derrickhand, derrickman)
- Pipeline walker
- Motorhand (motorman)
- Driller (rig operator)
- Oil rig managers
- Pipelayer, pipefitter
- Truck and bus drivers, worker transporters
In addition to damage from overexertion, there are other types of dangerous events that are most commonly associated with serious injuries and rig worker fatalities, including:
Contact with equipment and objects
This type of accident causes the most injuries requiring days away from work. Moving vehicles, falling equipment, and high-pressure lines are all potential sources of contact injuries. Examples include employees struck by objects like whipping pressurized lines, caught in equipment like spinning chains, struck against objects during site clearing, or crushed by equipment while moving pipes and casing.
Some of the equipment that poses the most risk to oil rig workers are:
- Oil derricks
- Donkey head rig pumps
- Hoisting equipment
- Rotary drills
- Cracked or otherwise damaged handtools
- High-pressure lines
Uncontrolled electrical, mechanical, or hydraulic energy poses a serious risk to oil rig workers. Established safe operating procedures like tagout or lockout routines, in addition to well-maintained and regularly inspected equipment, can cut down on the danger.
Clues that an electrical hazard exists include tripped circuit breakers, blown fuses, warm tools or wires, GFCI that shuts off a circuit, and worn or frayed wire insulation or connections.
Depending on the voltage and duration of contact, electrocution can cause internal organ damage, traumatic burns, and nerve damage. In arc flash situations, the energy might send shrapnel and radiation flying through the air. This can lead to eye injuries and hearing loss, among other damage.
Fires and explosions
Working alongside heavy machinery and combustible substances, oil rigs have a high risk of fires and explosions. Static electricity or toxic fume build-up and extreme heat are just some of the risks. Among the things that could cause a catastrophic fire include improperly grounded electrical wires, defective batteries, poor ventilation, improperly stored fuel and toxic substances, poor equipment maintenance (especially if it involves tanks and shale shakers), corrosion, failure to train employees in safety procedures, and failed equipment.
Overall, falls are among the leading cause of injuries and death in the U.S., but the risks are more significant for those working in the oil industry. About 1 out of every 3 falls involve the derrick board. Types of falls that occur the most frequently on oil rigs include:
- Falls on the same level
- Falls to a lower level
- Slips and trips
Common causes of falls include slippery floors, poorly secured ladders, lack of safety training, debris piling up where employees walk, uneven flooring, and loose wires.
Exposure to harmful substances
Handling or avoiding harmful substances and toxic chemicals are everyday challenges for oil rig workers. Confined spaces and sudden exposure can cause serious illnesses or death. Among the dangerous substances a worker may be exposed to are:
- Hydrogen sulfide
- Sulfur dioxide
- Nitrogen oxide
Employees spend a lot of time traveling in vehicles to and from oil rigs. With various shifts, large trucks, and buses moving around a site full of heavy machinery and unpredictable extractions, the risk of getting hit by a car, forklift, truck, tanker, or another vehicle is increased.
Contact an oil rig accident lawyer today.
At The Herrera Law Firm, our attorneys have a long track record of successfully representing injured oil rig workers in Texas. If you or a loved one was injured in an Eagle Ford Shale accident or another Texas oil rig accident, our attorneys can fight for the justice and financial compensation you deserve.