Workplace Safety Laws for Oilfields
Oil extraction and refinery operations are governed and regulated by both the federal government and the state of Montana.
On the national level, oil and gas extraction is covered by the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act and enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The OSH Act’s General Duty Clause covers every business in America, requiring employers to provide workers with “a safe workplace that does not have any recognized hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious injury.”
In addition, OSHA maintains an industry standard for oil and gas site preparation, as well as specific standards for the equipment, materials and substances used in an oilfield operation.
In the state, the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality regulate oil and gas extraction.
Common Oilfield Accidents and Their Causes
Oilfields are by their essence more prone to serious accidents than in office settings or manufacturing plants that are largely automated with well-established safety protocols in place. Causes of oilfield accidents include:
Equipment Failure: Oilfields utilize extremely large and potentially dangerous equipment. If the equipment isn’t maintained properly, or workers using it aren’t trained properly, serious accidents can occur.
Explosions and Fires: Flammable gases are used throughout oil sites by or in trucks, wells, and tanks. If a spark from any source ignites these gases, deadly fires and explosions can result.
Well Blowouts: A well blowout is an uncontrolled release of oil during drilling. This can become dangerous if the oil is somehow ignited.
Poorly Maintained Conditions: If the equipment used and the site itself aren’t maintained in safe conditions, accidents can result. Slips, trips and falls – the number-one workplace accident in the U.S. – can occur.
Working in Confined Spaces: Workers may be required to work in storage containers or storage tanks, where exposure to chemicals and toxins and even crushing can occur.
Hazardous Chemicals and Fumes: Toxic chemicals are used in oilfield operations, including benzene and sulfur dioxide. Exposure to any of these two or to any of the other substances used can lead to disastrous physical results, including leukemia, lung cancer, and cardiovascular risks, including heart attacks.
As a result of any of the above causes, or a combination of them, oilfield workers can incur debilitating injuries, including:
- Head and Brain Injuries: Concussions and skull or facial fractures
- Neck and Back Injuries: Routine heavy lifting can strain the back and neck
- Bone Injuries: Dislocations, strains and fractures
- Arm, Hand, Leg, and Foot Injuries: Sprains and fractures all the way to loss of the body part itself due to dangerous equipment being used
- Burns: Fires and explosions can lead to first-, second- or third-degree burns
- Soft Tissue Injuries: Tears of muscles or tendons due to repetitive movement
Workers’ Compensation: What to Do If You’re Injured
All employers in Montana are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance, which is a no-fault system that assigns blame to neither employee nor employee when an injury or illness occurs on the job.
Workers’ compensation may cover medical and rehabilitative expenses, along with lost wages. Lost wages are capped at two-thirds of your normal gross weekly income up to a state-imposed cap. The system may also cover you for any temporary or permanent disability you incur that prevents you from working.
When you are injured or fall ill on the job, you should first seek medical help and evaluation as needed, but you are also required to report the injury promptly to your employer, who will then inform the insurer providing workers’ compensation coverage. While you can choose your own doctor for your initial evaluation and treatment, the insurer will then assign you to a physician or medical group of its choice.
Workers’ compensation insurers are like any insurance company. They’re in the business to make money, so it’s not unusual for you to be given the runaround by the insurer covering your claim. You may be routinely requested to provide additional documentation or to justify why you are unable to work. They may even check your social media accounts to make sure you’re actually injured.
To deal with insurers and their demands, you need two approaches: (1) Document everything that has happened to you since the accident occurred, and (2) Hire an experienced personal injury and workers’ compensation attorney to guide, counsel, and represent you.
While workers’ compensation protects your employer from being sued, if a third party caused your injury on the job, you can file a personal injury lawsuit against them.
Examples of third-party claims include:
- The manufacturer of a piece of machinery that malfunctions and causes your injury
- The driver of a vehicle for another contractor who runs into you
- The actions and negligence of an employee working on the same site for a different contractor that leads to your injury
While workers’ compensation will pay only for medical and related expenses and for lost wages (up to a maximum), with a personal injury lawsuit, you can also receive compensation for noneconomic damages such pain and suffering.