The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Labor, recently announced that a Pennsylvania employer had been cited for a safety violation that led to a worker’s death in August 2012.The fatal incident took place at a gas well in Ringgold, Pennsylvania. The employer, J.R. Resources, did not provide a worker with flame-resistant garments. When a flash fire occurred, he was severely burned and did not survive.
Employers who operate this type of facility should be familiar with OSHA’s requirements for worker safety. OSHA’s standards discuss flash fires in the oil and gas business and the need for worker protection. A flash fire is sudden and brief, lasting only up to five seconds. It rapidly spreads through a cloud of gas or vapor and can reach a temperature of 1,000 to almost 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. In oil fields, 16 percent of worker fatalities result from flash fires.
Trying to prevent a flash fire may involve controlling ignition sources in areas where flammable vapor can be released during drilling. Electrical systems, tools and motors are among the potential ignition sources that are likely to be present on the job site, and even static electricity can start a flash fire. Industry safeguards seem unable to ensure that flash fires do not happen, so OSHA mandates that workers at risk must be provided with fire-resistant clothing when working in certain conditions.
OSHA’s detailed standards state when employers must provide fire-resistant clothing in oil and gas facilities. It is not generally needed while drill rigs are being set up, but once drilling is underway and reaches oil or gas, the potential is there for a flash fire.
OSHA gave J.R. Resources serious citations for a number of health and safety violations discovered during inspection. Besides failing to provide the worker with flame-resistant clothing, the company also failed to have fall protection in place, conduct hazard training or label tanks properly, among other violations. It was also found that an electrical pump — a potential ignition source — had been used around flammable material.
A citation is considered serious if there is substantial probability that a hazard could have resulted in serious injury or death, and the employer knew or should have known about the hazard. Besides the serious citations, J.R. Resources was also cited for failing to report the worker’s death to OSHA within the eight hours required by law. The company could be fined as much as $22,400 for the violations.
Even if employers are conscientious about following OSHA standards, workplace accidents can happen. When a worker is hurt, Workers’ Compensation benefits may be available to pay for medical expenses. If it is not possible to return to work for an extended period of time, benefits can include wage replacement. If a worker is fatally injured, Pennsylvania law allows for death benefits paid to the family.
For the full picture, an injured worker or a bereaved family member can speak with an attorney who specializes in this area. It is important to follow the proper procedures when claiming Workers’ Compensation or death benefits, and an attorney will act as an advocate to help throughout the entire process.