Oil and gas work is extremely dangerous due to the long hours, physical fatigue, the risk of fires, and many other dangers. Unsafe working conditions only increase the risk of accidents and fatalities at work.
A recent study, according to The Journal Record, indicates that many oil and gas workers work with the constant fear that they may be injured while doing their jobs. More than one in three of the workers who completed the survey expressed anxiety about their job security, unsafe working conditions, falling wages, and their desire to shift to other jobs. (Eighty-seven of the 1,635 respondents work in Oklahoma and 50 of the respondents live in Oklahoma.)
The survey questioned non-management and mostly blue-collar oil and gas workers whose jobs in the production, transportation, and refining of oil and gas involve physical labor. Thousands of oil and gas workers have already lost their jobs with the expectation that job losses will continue, according to True Transition, a “public policy collaborative representing energy workers’ interests during the clean energy transition.”
The respondents indicated that they preferred working in other jobs that used their existing skills but were anxious that those types of jobs will be available.
When asked to indicate the types of jobs they would like, the responses included “plugging wells, pipeline removal and electrical grid construction. One-quarter also chose utility-scale solar and rig decommissioning. The lowest choice (15%) was carbon capture and storage.”
Dangerous workplace conditions in the oil and gas industry
Survey respondents gave varied answers about what they feared but there were two specific categories that kept popping up.
- Working more than 12 hours a day – sometimes for 20 hours or even 32 hours in a row. Sixty percent of “upstream oil and gas workers” said they work 12 or more hours daily – and then they have to commute home while they’re tired.
- Being asked by their supervisors to violate established safety procedures by engaging in unsafe working conditions. More than one in three respondents said that their supervisors had asked them to work in unsafe conditions at least once and one in six said they were threatened with termination or disciplinary action if they did not engage in unsafe working practices.
Both of these reasons are worrisome, but the second – being asked to violate safety procedures – is especially so. It implies more than just negligence; it’s a reckless disregard by company owners and managers for the rules designed to protect workers. What is less clear is what kinds of procedures workers are being asked to violate – and how many workers are put at risk each time a violation occurs.
What is also worrisome is the risk that such behaviors will continue as the industry continues to lose jobs. If the choice is between losing your income and taking safety risks, many workers will opt for the latter. They will feel like they have no other choice.
What safety rules and regulations govern the oil and gas industry?
The oil and gas industry is one of the most highly-regulated industries in the country. The Library of Congress offers information about many of the rules and laws, which you can access here.
For most workers, however, it is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) which sets the workplace standards for the oil and gas industry. A few common OSHA oil and gas industry standards include:
- Oil and Gas Field Services Industry Group (NAICS Code 213111)
- Crude Petroleum and Natural Gas (NAICS Code 211111)
- Drilling Oil and Gas Wells (NAICS Code 213111)
- Oil and Gas Field Exploration Services (NAICS Code 213112)
- Oil and Gas Field Services, Not Elsewhere Classified (NAICS Code 213112)
What are the most common causes of injury for oil and gas workers?
Some of the causes of fatalities among oil and gas workers include, according to OSHA:
- Vehicle accidents
- Fires and explosions
- Being struck by, caught in, or caught between various objects
- Exposure to chemicals
- Working in confined space accidents
Additional risks include electrocution and fatal crush injuries from trench collapse. There is no shortage of ways oil and gas workers can be injured or killed on a job even under the safest conditions.
Our seasoned Oklahoma City oilfield accident lawyers are skilled at showing the laws, regulations, and industry standards that oilfield companies must follow, why and how those requirements were breached, and how those breaches caused your personal injuries or the death of a loved one.
Why classifying a worker as an employee is so important
The survey found that almost half of the respondents said their company’s safety program was either explicitly or implicitly designed to shift the liability of an accident onto the worker. According to the Journal Record, “A little more than a quarter of respondents said they did not have employer-provided health insurance with their current or most recent job, 42% said they did not have paid time off or sick leave and 44% indicated they had no employer-provided retirement.” What this tells us is that, in the event of an accident, injured workers may not be able to secure the medical help they need, and may be more likely to return to work even if they are still injured.
This is why workers classification is so important. For employees, it means access to workers’ compensation. In OK workers’ compensation claims, the employer is liable for any injuries without the need to show fault. It entitles you to both medical benefits AND wage loss benefits – a literal lifeline for an injured worker.
But these rights are under attack, too. The authors of the study said that using contractors instead of employees is on the rise – which makes obtaining workers’ compensation benefits less likely for on-the-job injuries. A little more than half of the respondents said they were full-time employees, but 22 percent said they were independent contractors. That means a fifth of the work force can be denied medical and wage loss benefits even if the injury occurs while they’re in the course of their duties.
For those workers, though, there is hope. Contractors, site visitors, and others who are ineligible for workers’ compensation can file a personal injury claim. In personal injury claims, the burden is on the worker to show that the employer was negligent. The burden shifts to the employee to prove negligence when a worker is classified as an independent contractor instead of an employee, but that’s where we come in. Our Oklahoma City oil and gas injury lawyers can help you with your claim, which can seek damages for medical expenses, ALL lost wages and pain and suffering.
At Cunningham & Mears, our Oklahoma City oilfield accident lawyers are skilled at proving to a jury or an insurance company just why you deserve compensaiton. We work with oilfield professionals to show why your oilfield injuries were due to the negligence of the owners or others. Our attorneys work with your doctors to fully understand what injuries you have, the medical care you need, how your injuries are affecting every aspect of your life, and your inability to work. To discuss your rights after any oil and gas accident, call us or contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation.
Ryan Y. Cunningham is a founding partner of Cunningham & Mears. Mr. Cunningham devotes his practice to protecting the rights of injured Oklahoma residents. In addition to assisting injured clients, Mr. Cunningham endeavors to improve personal injury representation by speaking on issues related to personal injury law to attorneys in continuing legal education courses and to law students. Learn More