Recently a gas line exploded in the town of Sissonville, W.Va. A local gas company confirmed the source of the explosion came from one of its transmission lines. With this news, the small town of just over 4,000 residents learned that the jobs associated with the oil and gas industry sometimes come at a price.
The fire demolished four homes and damaged five others. A section of a freeway was also shut down, and power and phone lines were out for several hours. Although no one was killed, several people were treated for injuries related to smoke inhalation.
Federal regulators are worried as injury and death tolls climb
With the increase in oil and gas drilling, work-related injuries and deaths are increasing – to the great concern of the industry’s federal regulators.
According to the Department of Labor, 49 workers in Texas were killed on oil and gas drilling sites in 2007. This is up from 35 in 2003. Additionally, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration director reports that seven workers were killed in the past year.
Overall, some 600 workers in the gas and oil extraction industry were killed nationwide between 2003 and 2008. This puts the on-the-job death rate for these workers at eight times higher than the national average of all other occupations.
Oil and gas well injuries are also common. In 2009, a crew was sent to work on a gas well in New Mexico. As workers disassembled it, the well, which had not been properly depressurized, blew up. One crew member died in the incident.
Reasons for the accident increase
The National Occupational Research Agenda, a governmental safety group, began meeting in 2008 to investigate the increase in accidents. According to NORA, reasons for the accidents include:
- Heavy equipment
- Inexperienced workers
- Long hours
- Harsh conditions
Inexperienced oil workers are sometimes brought in because the demand for workers has outpaced the availability of seasoned oil and gas crew members. These novices are then sent to work in remote areas; under harsh conditions; and are expected to use unwieldy and unfamiliar tools to move equipment such as heavy pipes. Often working in 12-hour shifts – and frequently required to work seven to 14 days in a row without any time off – workers are also under pressure to complete jobs as quickly as possible.
What can be done?
A director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program says more federal inspectors are necessary. Currently there are over half a million miles of transmission pipelines crossing the United States but only 110 inspectors.
He also urges an increased focus on maintenance operations, claiming employers sometimes cut corners to get work done efficiently. He also notes that many pipelines are outdated and need modernizing.
An individual injured because of a workplace injury may be entitled to several forms of compensation. Manufacturers may be liable for defective products, and employers may be accountable for unsafe conditions. A local personal injury attorney can provide guidance and help determine all available legal options.