Many people understand that drilling for oil is an unsafe business, but maybe they don’t know just how dangerous it is. In the decade spanning 2003 to 2013, there were over a thousand deaths in the oil and gas extraction industry, according to a Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) reported on by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That’s a nearly 28 percent increase from the prior decade. This number was so high, in part, because the domestic oil industry increased the number of oil rigs by a mind-bending 71 percent in that time frame.
Believe it or not, though, the number could be a lot higher. In the same time period, the number of fatalities at any specific facility actually fell substantially, meaning that the number of deaths went way up because there were more rigs, even though those rigs were getting safer for those who worked there.
So what is so dangerous about oil rigs, and more importantly, why?
Well, most of those deaths were caused by transportation accidents. Many others were caused by dangerous contact with equipment on the rigs themselves. Since most fatalities occurred during transportation to and from these rigs, federal agencies and legal entities are playing catch-up in order to make employer guidelines regulating safety policy stricter. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in analyzing this data, also believes that better controls need to be put into place for automated technologies to limit danger not caused by human error.
Accidents that occur on oil rigs themselves aren’t a big surprise, either. Those employed to work in these industries are expected to be on shift for at least 12 hours a day and must navigate a maze of heavy machinery while also avoiding materials that can be scalding hot, corrosive, and combustible. On top of that, workers spend weeks at a time working. When one mistake can mean the difference between life and death, in those circumstances, they can be nearly impossible to avoid over an extended period of time.
When an accident does happen, medical personnel are often too far away to provide adequate help in time. Someone working on an offshore oil rig who might be saved on land must first be rescued by the coast guard before they can be safely transported to a hospital. That delay in treatment can be substantial and is often fatal.
Only a month ago, a 43-year-old employee of the Hastings oil field about 25 miles south of Houston was crushed by an iron “snatch block” that weighed at least 2,500 pounds. He was killed instantly. Sadly, this occurrence is an all-too-common nightmare for workers both on land and at sea.
While a lot of progress has been made over the last two decades in increasing the safety of the oil and gas extraction industry, the number of deaths is still inexcusable. Even more inexcusable is the conduct of one U.S. congressman, Gary Palmer of Alabama, who believes that the Jones Act—a law designed specifically to protect the lives and welfare of American sailors should be repealed in Puerto Rico.
Why does he feel this way? Because he thinks its removal would contribute to economic prosperity for Puerto Rico. He believes the Jones Act is too expensive. One might ask him how he can weigh dollars against human lives.
Here at home, at least, we don’t have to worry about it just yet. Legal experts have been helping victims of the oil and gas extraction industry “extract” proper compensation for years and will continue to do so for as long as there are victims to help.
Perry Zivley was born and raised in Houston, Texas. As a trial lawyer, he enjoys representing plaintiffs and winning large settlements against major corporations, including multi-national entities. Always wanting to put the people first, Perry works on a contingency basis so everyone can have their day in court. He is also a member of the Open Door Mission, which helps the homeless in Houston.