A Texas workplace accident that seriously injured seven workers occurred at Sunoco Logistics Terminal, a southeast crude oil storage facility. According to a lawsuit filed by several employees, they were instructed to conduct welding operations on a scaffold more than 10 feet off the ground. As the workers began, there was pressure building inside a closed pipe line and a 30-inch plug in the line was ejected and struck one worker in the shoulder and chest. The crude oil in the pipe line ignited and caused a flash fire. The force of the explosion knocked off one worker’s welding mask, setting his face on fire and forcing him to jump off the scaffold to avoid being burned alive. All seven workers survived, but sustained varying degrees of burn injuries in addition to fall injuries.
According to the lawsuit, there was supposed to have been a release valve installed, which would have allowed the pressure behind the plug to release in a safe manner, rather than a violent explosion. If this had been the case, these serious injuries may not have occurred.
Oil and Gas Industry Employers Must Be Diligent About Workplace Safety
The demand for crude oil and natural gas creates an increase in drilling activity in the U.S., particularly Texas. This demand places additional pressures on companies within the industry to hire inexperienced workers and use unsafe equipment. This increases the likelihood of poor practices and unsafe work environments, which can lead to the following:
- Explosions and flash fires
- Oil blowouts
- Equipment-related accidents
- Fall hazards
- Machinery crush injuries
- Chemical inhalation or exposure
- Struck-by injuries
Texas has approximately one-third of all U.S. crude oil reserves, according to the U.S. Energy Information Association, making it the leading crude oil producing state. This consistent market and high demand for workers means a relatively high number of oil field accidents. However, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, injuries are preventable as long as the proper precautions are taken, including:
- Diligently training all workers
- Regularly inspecting and performing maintenance on equipment
- Maintaining fall zones and providing fall protection equipment
- Employing flaggers for overhead loads
- Providing protective gear
Aaron Allison is an Austin workers’ compensation attorney who fights for employees injured in workplace accidents. Out of the 90,000 lawyers in Texas, only 40 represent injured workers and Aaron Allison is one of them.