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Cok Kinzler PLLP

Lack of OSHA regulations puts oil field workers at risk

One newspaper reportedly has looked at data produced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration concerning oil field accidents that have occurred since 2007. Among concerns of the newspaper was the failure of the federal government to implement safety standards concerning onshore oil and gas drilling for 22 years.

Apparently OSHA is only required those oil field accidents that result in fatalities or that send more than three workers to the hospital. In at least one state, this amounted to only a very small percentage of all cases that resulted in illness or injury. However, when OSHA did investigate such cases it found that 78 percent of the time there were safety violations. It further found that many of these accidents were preventable.

Obviously oil workers are engaged in a relatively risky occupation. Such an occupation often involves long hours of work in proximity to large machinery. Work-related accidents involving oil workers can involve lost limbs, burns and broken bones. Many workers also risk being crushed when something goes wrong. One attorney described the conditions on the oil fields as being like "the Wild West."

OSHA standards still do not have a set of rules that cover onshore gas and oil drilling. While much of the attention has been aimed at offshore drilling, onshore drilling accidents continue taking workers lives. There are too few OSHA inspectors allocated towards overseeing safety rules and outdated equipment continues to be operated. "The truth is, offshore drilling is a lot safer than onshore," stated one former OSHA administrator.

These are just some of the problems that analysts and attorneys are seeing concerning oil field worksite injuries. We will likely continue seeing more such injuries in Montana and surrounding states due to increases in oil production. As the above circumstances indicate, there is not always statutory guidance to help lead the way. Attorneys are needed to help injured workers navigate such a complicated legal terrain.

Source: Houston Chronicle, "Drilling boom, deadly legacy," Lise Olsen, Feb. 25, 2014

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