With 450,000 people working in the oil and gas industry, safety remains a constant concern. In a five-year period from 2013-2017, 489 people were killed while working in oil and gas extractions. Thousands more were injured. (Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Oil and Gas Extraction)
Understanding common types of injuries and accidents can help workers remain aware of the risks associated with working in the oil and gas industry. Our oilfield injury lawyers have identified several common types of oilfield injuries based on years of experience pursuing cases for our clients.
Common Oilfield Injuries
Brain trauma may involve concussion, traumatic brain injury, skull fractures, and objects piercing the brain. Brain injuries are wide-ranging in their scope and the impact on the victim. Brain trauma may result from many different types of accidents and injuries that can occur on an oil field. Signs of serious injury may be subtle, but could also result in long term side effects like memory loss and the loss of brain function.
Neck and back injuries
Neck and back injuries often limit freedom of movement. A person may become paralyzed, experience numbness in the arms and legs, or endure shooting pain. Neck and back injuries may heal slowly, but spinal cord injuries and the resulting paralysis are often permanent. Injuries may develop from a single event, or they may develop from repetitive trauma.
Direct stress to the body may result in a broken bone. The person may suffer a fall, or they may be caused by an impact. Broken bones cause pain, disfigurement, and mobility limitations. A break may be complete or partial. The skin may be open or closed. Bones can break from a traumatic event or stress that breaks the bone over time.
Injuries to the extremities
Oil field work may result in injuries to the hands and feet. The extremities may be at risk for cuts, bruises, and broken bones. Injuries may prevent the person from using the limb fully in the future. Amputation may be required.
Repetitive use injuries
Performing the same work repetitively may result in injury. Oilfield work often involves heavy labor. Whether a movement is performed a few times or many times a day, it can wear the body down over time. A worker may develop strains, dull aches, and shooting pain from repetitive work. Poor ergonomics, a lack of rest, and inadequate protective equipment can all contribute to repetitive use injuries.
Burns may be extremely painful, disfiguring, and life-threatening. Lung damage may occur. Thermal burns involve flames, radiant heat, steam, and hot liquids. Electrical burns can cause skin and muscle damage, as well as electric shock. Chemical explosions can put skin in contact with corrosive material. Burns are a serious risk for oil and gas workers and are some of the most serious injuries a victim may suffer.
Injuries from chemical exposure
Chemicals, gases, and vapors may all cause harm to workers in the field. Workers in the oil and gas industry regularly use hazardous materials. Oil and gas wells can release hydrogen sulfide which is harmful to humans. Workers may also be exposed to radioactive material released from oil and gas formations. Temperature extremes and lack of oxygen are also environmental hazards.
Hazardous chemicals must be labeled and handled properly. Processes must be used to identify, label, and communicate the existence of hazardous chemicals to workers. Protective equipment, eye and face protection, and respiratory protection are critical. Dangers also exist from touching dangerous substances or inhaling them. Workers must be trained in how to respond appropriately to toxic exposures. (OSHA, Health Hazards Associated with Oil and Gas Extraction Activities)
Occupational noise exposure may be a risk in the oil and gas industry. At certain levels of exposure, noise can damage hearing without causing pain. Protection must be provided if sound levels exceed acceptable levels. If administrative or engineering controls aren’t enough, personal protective equipment must be provided and used. (OSHA, Occupational Noise Exposure)
Types of Oilfield Accidents
Motor vehicle accidents
Oilfield work requires the use of motor vehicles. Vehicles transport workers and equipment. Long-distance travel is often required. According to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 40% of oil and gas industry fatalities are from motor vehicle crashes.
Traffic controls on the worksite may be insufficient for vehicles to maneuver safely. Safety equipment like high-visibility clothing and barriers may be inadequate. Drivers must be appropriately trained, including proper speeds and the use of seat belts. (OSHA, Work Zone Safety)
Struck-by, caught-in, and caught-between
A struck-by or caught-in accident occurs when a person is stuck between a moving object and a stationary object, between two moving objects, or against an object and the ground or a wall. An employer should evaluate ways that struck-by or caught accidents may occur and take preventive action.
In the oil and gas industry, workers regularly use heavy equipment. Hazards may exist from moving vehicles, falling objects, or high pressure in industrial systems. OSHA publishes requirements for using various pieces of machinery. Even when best practices are followed, heavy machinery poses a risk to workers.
Explosions, fires, and electrical hazards
Working with flammable substances poses an ongoing risk of fires and explosions. When fires occur, they may be hard to contain. Ignition sources vary in oil and gas work and may include static electrical energy sources, tools, friction, lightning, and cigarette use. Vehicles that fall into poor repair may also pose a risk. Empty containers may contain flammable residue. Employers must appreciate that all work involving heat, electricity, and flammable substances is potentially dangerous. (OSHA, General Safety, Hot Work)
A fall may occur from the same work surface or an elevated surface. Surfaces may be uneven, and they may be wet or slick. Fall protection should be used where appropriate, and trip and fall hazards should be eliminated when possible. Guardrails and safety nets should be utilized in the appropriate circumstances. Another common cause of injuries is defective scaffolding. (OSHA, Fall Protection)
Chemical exposures may occur because of an incident or poor planning to prevent routine exposure. Exposure can cause respiratory problems and a host of other health problems. Illness and disease may be acute or chronic.
Lawyers for Oilfield Accident Injuries