Figures released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and confirmed by the Texas Department of Insurance indicate that half of the 142 energy industry workers who lost their lives on the job last year were employed in the state of Texas. This amounts to 71 people who were killed in incidents related to their employment in the oil and gas industry. For the families of those lost to Houston wrongful death in an industrial accident, understanding how these incidents occur and working to prevent further loss of life can provide some measure of closure and resolution. Factors Contributing to Unsafe Working Environments The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is currently looking into the causes and contributing factors leading up to injuries and fatalities in the oil field environment. At least 615 U.S. oil field workers have died in the five-year period between 2010 and 2014; 270 of those lost their lives in Texas. Shale drilling activities may be partly responsible for the increase in injuries and deaths. As people find employment in the oil industry, injuries are also likely to increase. The failure of companies to protect their workers and to institute safety procedures as required by OSHA regulations, however, is a much more likely cause of some of the most serious accidents in the Lone Star State. Accidents Throughout the Industry Although OSHA does not directly investigate transportation accidents that claim the lives of oil field workers, the long hours and strenuous labor required in this field are surely contributing factors to the exhaustion and slower reflexes that could contribute to these and other types of accidents:
- On January 15, 2015, five oil field workers lost their lives when the van they were driving collided with a crude oil tanker truck. The tanker burst into flames after impact.
- Three workers were killed on an oil field rig 40 miles south of Midland, Texas. The accident occurred on March 11, 2015, while the well was being serviced. The rig was operated and owned by Parsley Energy of Midland.
- The family of Garland Kelley was awarded $29 million in damages by a Houston jury in March 2015. Kelley lost his life in an industrial battery explosion that occurred in Conroe, Texas, at the Professional Directional Enterprises site where he worked.
- The Viva Energy Services oilfield in Odessa, Texas, was the scene of a serious accident that sent Juan Renteria to the hospital in critical condition. An August 11, 2015, flash fire and explosion left Renteria with serious burns and other injuries.
- Four people lost their lives in a Houston petrochemical plant accident in November 2014. The accident occurred at the La Porte DuPont plant when workers were exposed to large quantities of toxic methyl mercaptan vented into a tower at that facility.
These cases represent only a fraction of the many injury and fatality accidents that have occurred over the past few years in and around Texas and North Dakota oil fields. In nearly every case, safety violations on the part of the employer has resulted in OSHA citations after these incidents, highlighting the culture of negligence that appears to be endemic throughout the energy industry. OSHA inspections and citations have had little effect on the overall safety conditions present in Texas oil fields and elsewhere in the industrial environment. In some cases, families of injured or killed workers have enlisted the help of a Houston industrial accident lawyer to hold energy companies responsible for their failures and to change the overall culture of irresponsibility practiced by many businesses in the oil and gas industry. By taking their complaints to court, these families can tell their stories and attract public attention to the dangers workers face in the modern oil field environment.