Safety Violations Found in Texas Oilfield Deaths

February 19, 2013

Federal workplace safety investigations show that at least 11 deaths in Texas’ oilfields could have been prevented if companies followed safety protocols.

The San Antonio Express-News reported Sunday that it used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain details about accident investigations in the Eagle Ford Shale oilfields since 2009.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration records show safety violations were found in every fatal incident.

Oil well and Storage TanksJobs in the oil and natural gas fields can bring in big paychecks for those willing to do difficult and dangerous work. One in five deaths investigated by OSHA in South Texas in the past decade has been at a gas or oil company. Details on more recent investigations were not immediately released by OSHA.

Because the government entity focuses on workplace safety, it does not investigate traffic accidents involving oil or gas company workers that may be related to their work. Between 2009 and 2011, 40 oil and gas workers were killed in traffic accidents on Texas public roads.

The newspaper also says OSHA’s fines initially averaged $10,900 per death, but later agreed to cut the penalties to $6,100.

Michael Rivera, area director for OSHA’s Corpus Christi office, which monitors most of the Eagle Ford Shale region south of San Antonio, acknowledged that some fines might not mean a substantial loss for large companies. But, he added, most companies want to run a safe operation and avoid dealing with an OSHA investigations.

“If the penalty is not a deterrent, sometimes the violations themselves could be a deterrent to a lot of employers,” he said.

Longtime oil field employee James May says things used to be worse. Back in 1979, when he first started working, companies had an “anything goes” attitude toward safety, May said.

“But it’s still a dangerous job. Every aspect of it is pretty dangerous,” he said.

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