A picture of a hard hat with the words, "common causes of oilfield accidents."

There have been great lengths taken to improve the work safety conditions for employees across many industries in the United States. However, there are some jobs, such as oilfield workers, where the intense labor and dangerous conditions can never be fully eradicated.

Oilfield workers work around large equipment that has the power to seriously injure or even kill someone from a simple mistake. On top of that, the oil itself presents a huge risk due to its flammable nature, increasing the risk of fire throughout the field. 

While precautions are taken to increase the safety of an oilfield’s staff and environment, accidents still happen. According to the most recent report from the International Association for Oil and Gas Producers, 25 oilfield workers lost their lives due to accidents in 2019.

Understanding what the most common causes of oilfield accidents are can help employees and oil companies take better care in preventing accidents. Here is a breakdown of the top causes of oilfield accidents in the United States according to the International Association for Oil and Gas Producers:

Slip and Fall Accidents on Oilfields

Slip and fall accidents accounted for 32.5% of all oilfield accidents in 2019. These accidents could have occurred either from someone slipping on a slick surface, from faulty safety barriers causing an employee to fall off of a high platform, or from a simple trip over improperly parked machinery that could have resulted in a broken leg, dislocated shoulder, or even more serious injuries such as a traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury. 

Depending on the severity of the accident, an oilfield worker may lose the ability to properly do their job, leaving them unable to work. Whether they are out on disability while they recover or are forced to find work elsewhere, the end result is the same: significant stress, lost ability to provide for their family, and their whole world falling to pieces in a matter of seconds.

Being Struck By Falling Equipment

Oilfields and rigs are known for their intricate structures and heavy machinery. All of these machines need to be maintained properly and inspected regularly to ensure that everything is working properly. If just one screw is loose or if there is a disconnect in the machine’s wiring, it can lead to a catastrophic failure of the equipment resulting in a serious or even deadly accident.

In 2019, 19.1% of all accidents on oilfields and rigs were caused by equipment falling on employees. Falling equipment can lead to serious injuries such as shattered bones, spinal cord injuries, and traumatic brain injuries. In most cases in 2019, however, being struck by falling equipment led to the death of the employee as they were either crushed under the machine’s heavy weight or died on impact. 

Employees Getting Caught Between Heavy Pieces of Equipment

A safety helmet in front of an oilfield

While equipment falling resulted in many injuries and deaths in 2019, the same can be said for being caught between pieces of equipment. Oilfield companies reported that 16.6% of their accidents occurred due to an employee getting caught between pieces of equipment, leading to that employee getting crushed.

It is the responsibility of all employees and their supervisors to ensure that employees are not operating machinery while another employee is around them and to be aware of their surroundings at all times. If an employee or the supervisor fails to act with caution while on the job and they move a piece of equipment or operate machinery while another employee is working on it or trying to move between them, it can lead to serious injury and death.

Failure to Check Equipment Levels

Pumps and valves on oilfield equipment need to stay within a certain pressure range to operate effectively and safely. Preventative maintenance on the equipment calls for regular checks of the pressure gauges to ensure that they remain within their optimal levels.

If the pressure gauge is too high, the risk of rupture and explosion significantly increases, and these types of accidents can harm everyone on the oil site. From flying shrapnel to debris causing lacerations to the heat from the explosion resulting in fires, a wide multitude of fatalities and injuries can occur.

When the pressure levels are too low, this is a sign that there could be a leak somewhere in the equipment; this can present serious dangers such as increased fire hazard or exposure to toxic chemicals/fumes.

Exposure to toxic chemicals/fumes and explosion accidents resulted in 2.4% of accidents on oil fields in 2019.

Failure to Follow Proper Shutdown Procedures

When the readings on equipment show dangerously high levels or dangerous low levels, oilfield industry regulations dictate that the operation needs to be shut down. Once the shutdown occurs, workers can go in and find the source of the issue and solve it, keeping the work environment safe for all employees.

However, the pressure to meet deadlines often has companies pressing their luck and endangering the lives of their team. When shutdown procedures are ignored, serious and deadly accidents can occur, resulting in a massive loss of life and destruction of the oilfield and equipment.

Employees Were Trained Improperly

All oilfield employees should be properly trained on all safety procedures, including how to safely operate equipment and what signs to look out for that could mean trouble. A lot of accidents occur because employees didn’t know what to look for or were doing their job improperly.

It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that all employees know how to do their job, have the proper equipment to do their job safely, and know what to look out for. Employees should never be asked to fill in for a role that they are unsure about or are not qualified to perform.

What Do You Do If You or a Loved One Was Involved in an Oilfield Accident?

Oilfield accidents are often horrific and can affect more than just the employee, the equipment, and the job site. Oftentimes, it is the employee’s loved ones who feel the full brunt of the recovery process as they scramble to pick up the pieces. When it is the gross negligence of the employer or another employee that resulted in the accident, help is available. The dedicated team of work injury attorneys at Hernandez Law Group, P.C. can help you get the compensation you deserve to aid you along the recovery process. Our team works hard to gather the necessary evidence to support your claim and ensure that you and your family are taken care of. Contact our team today for more information or to schedule your free, no-obligation consultation.