Tragic Accident Spotlights Dangers of Oil Industry for Workers

An oil drilling accident that occurred in Midland County, Texas, claimed the life of Ronnie Lynn May and left his young son without a father. May was attempting to rescue one of his colleagues, Mariano Pruneda, whose leg had become pinned under a section of pipe on the drilling rig operated by Helmerich & Payne, Inc. During May’s efforts to help Pruneda, another portion of the rig fell and crushed May. Both men were transported to the Midland Memorial Hospital; May was pronounced dead later that afternoon. Helmerich & Payne has been inspected by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) more than 50 times since 2010 and has racked up at least 25 violations during that time. For families who have lost loved ones or workers who have been injured on the job, consulting with an oil rig accident attorney can provide added help in determining the cause of these tragic events and in obtaining fair compensation for their losses. A Growing Problem According to figures compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, fatal accidents are on the rise in the oil industry. At least 545 oilfield workers lost their lives between 2008 and 2012; Texas workers accounted for 216 of the reported deaths in the industry. OSHA records indicate that safety violations on the part of oil companies play a role in many of the fatal accidents in Texas and across the country. According to consumer protection organization Texas Watch, at least 11 deaths could have been prevented if oil companies complied with all applicable safety regulations in the workplace. Unfortunately, as oil drilling and exploration continues to expand, the risks to workers continue to increase as well. A Pattern of Neglect and Negligence An article published in the Houston Chronicle on February 9, 2013, spotlighted the dangers to workers in the oil industry. While the overall number of fatalities in the workplace has declined significantly in recent years, oil worker deaths are actually increasing. On average, nearly 40 workers die on the job each year in the Texas oil industry. These figures do not include the number of workers who die in traffic accidents related to their jobs; OSHA does not maintain statistics on these types of accidents. OSHA records indicate that 78 percent of the accidents the agency investigated involved safety violations that could have contributed to the fatalities or injuries suffered by workers. Lack of Federal Oversight While offshore drilling operations are highly regulated, the U.S. government has yet to implement a comprehensive set of safety standards for the onshore drilling industry. This has led to a cavalier approach by many onshore oil drilling companies to protecting their workers. As of January 1, 2015, OSHA will require added recordkeeping for all employers regarding serious injuries and fatalities on the job. This is expected to provide an added incentive for employers in implementing and enforcing best practices on the job and providing workers with a safer working environment. For the families of workers like Ronnie Lynn May, however, these new requirements are too little and too late. Working with a qualified Houston wrongful death lawyer can help families achieve a sense of closure on these tragic accidents. Houston work injury attorneys can provide support for victims in navigating the legal process and working toward a fair settlement for their injuries or losses. If the oil company has demonstrated negligence or failed to provide a safe working environment for employees, pursuing legal action can also allow families and victims to bring financial pressure to bear against the responsible parties. This can promote changes in the oil industry that may save lives and prevent further accidents in the future.