The Houston Chronicle recently concluded a yearlong investigation that revealed the terrifying truth of the oil and gas industry in Texas—there is hardly any federal response to tragic accidents on drilling rigs, even in the event of massive injury. While offshore drilling platforms have received a great deal of attention regarding safety standards and reform, onshore and mobile drilling has remained without safety reform for over 20 years.
Why the Lack of Safety Reform?
The oil and gas industry was excluded from a comprehensive safety reform program that OSHA initiated in 1992, with officials promising a separate and distinct program specifically for well services and drilling rigs. As a result of an administration change, that program never came. As it currently stands, OSHA policy asserts that they are required to investigate an accident only when someone is killed or three workers are hospitalized.
Even in these cases, companies sometimes choose not to report accidents to OSHA. Brandy Foret, 23, was severely injured along with 3 other workers in 2009 in an incident that OSHA never investigated. Foret was rendered comatose and suffered broken ribs, shattered tibias, shattered scapula, and major spinal damage. His story is only one of dozens that have resulted from an industry with barely any oversight or safety standards, despite being one of the most dangerous occupations in the U.S.
OSHA Inspectors Spread Too Thin
OSHA has assigned 95 inspectors to oversee all of Texas’ work sites, which includes restaurants, construction sites, retail, and all other workplaces. These few inspectors are responsible for overseeing the entire Texas oil and gas industry, despite many of these inspectors having minimal (if any) training or experience with oil- or gas-related occupations. In addition, some oil companies have chosen to turn away inspectors when they did not come with a warrant, despite OSHA’s sole goal of employee safety. The findings of the report found that 78% of oil drilling accidents in Texas were due to a lack of safety procedure. Spread far too thin, with a lack of real authority, how can anyone be surprised that the oil and gas industry is such a dangerous place for workers?
OSHA has claimed that developing better safety standards for Texas onshore oil drilling rigs is one of its highest priorities, like it was for offshore drilling after the Deepwater Horizon incident. The injury attorneys at Arnold & Itkin certainly hope so as we believe that oil rig workers deserve safer work environments.