Texas remains one of the largest fuel-drilling states in the United States, especially with the rapid acquisition of new drilling sites across the state in the last decade. However, the increased number of jobs in the industry has come with both benefits and risks. While communities in the Permian Basin and near other major industry locations may appreciate the economic boosts that came with the boom, the headlines in local newspapers each year also speak to numerous deaths and injuries of oilfield workers in car and truck accidents—both on the field and on the way home.
The oilfield is a dangerous environment, but vehicle accidents before, during, and after shifts are responsible for a shockingly large number of fatalities and injuries related to the work. While tragic explosions and hazardous gas leaks may attract a lot of media attention, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that, between 2003 and 2008, highway accidents actually took the lives of more workers than any other hazard on the field.
Why do traffic accidents take the lives of so many oilfield workers?
Oilfield work is dangerous work that sometimes claims lives—and it’s not always the dangers on the field that pose the biggest risk. According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), highway collisions are the leading cause of death for oilfield workers. While fatal vehicle accidents sometimes take place directly on the worksite, OSHA data shows that approximately 40 percent of all workers in the industry who are killed in the line of work are killed in vehicle accidents on the highway.
Although not every car or truck accident is necessarily the fault of negligent oil and gas companies, fatal accidents involving oilfield workers are often due to preventable problems. It’s likely that a combination of dangerous conditions is responsible for the shocking number of fatal transportation accidents for oilfield workers:
- Workers are tired after long and strenuous shifts. Whether they’re driving oil tankers or transporting other workers home, employees driving off the worksite may be coming off 16-hour or 20-hour shifts—and drowsy drivers can cause fatal accidents. Long shifts, long waits, and pressure to work fast mean that the oilfield workers are tired when they’re driving themselves and their passengers home. National trucking regulations protect most truck drivers by limiting the number of hours they can work and making sure they get the rest breaks they need. However, oil and gas companies may be exempt from these regulations or fail to adhere to the rules in practice.
- Oilfields involve huge trucks and dangerous cargo. A simple traffic accident can become a tragedy when a huge, heavy truck carrying potentially flammable or toxic substances is involved. Working in, on, and around these massive vehicles makes oilfield employees more vulnerable to serious injuries when an accident does happen.
- Vehicles are poorly maintained. The trucks and vehicles used on oilfields aren’t always maintained properly, meaning that workers may be driving or riding on worn tires, with faulty brakes, or in vehicles that otherwise need repair. The federal trucking regulations that apply in other industries include rules for inspecting and maintaining vehicles, but the trucks used in oil-related work may not be as frequently inspected for problems.
- Workers may be inexperienced. Many of the workers in the expanding oilfields across Texas aren’t industry veterans—most are brand new or only have a few years in the field. Unfortunately, a lack of experience and rushed “on-the-job” training can compound all the other potential problems that lead to wrecks. Many oilfield drivers aren’t adequately trained or licensed. While transportation companies are generally required to carefully screen and train employees, some driving situations in the oil industry are not held to the same standards.
- “Booming” regions may not be ready for the increased traffic. With the oilfield boom, small towns and counties saw an explosion in heavy traffic on their roads and highways. These areas were largely unprepared to handle the influx of traffic, and local governments struggled to keep up with maintenance and repairs. Many felt the negative effects of traffic congestion and increased road maintenance needs, especially in areas where fracking techniques required more trucks for water transport. As the number of huge vehicles on the roads increased, so did the number of fatal accidents.
Why does it matter if oilfield trucks are included in trucking regulations?
There are many different types of drivers who work in the oilfield and fill the needs of the oil and gas industry, and the regulations that apply to them aren’t always the same as those that apply to drivers in other industries. Oilfield workers are generally exempt from the highway regulations that protect other kinds of commercial drivers, such as rules limiting work hours or mandating rest breaks. Those who drive work trucks or personal vehicles may not be covered under national trucking regulations, unlike drivers with CDLs driving tanker trucks and 18-wheelers. The lack of safety rules can mean that oilfield drivers and people in nearby communities get hurt or killed.
The regulations that apply to the trucking industry help keep drivers safe when they operate—or share the road with—these heavy vehicles. With reduced or nonexistent regulations for oilfield drivers, it is more likely that the exempt workers operating these trucks and large vehicles will cause or get hurt in an accident at work. The safety rules that apply to oilfield drivers have been under increased scrutiny due to the high number of accidents accompanying the oil boom, and it’s hard to say what changes may be coming in the future.
Car and truck accidents are still work injuries if they happen on the job
Because accidents on the road aren’t usually seen as “work related,” the families of oilfield workers who do get hurt sometimes end up paying the price for these tragic wrecks. However, whether a loved one is hurt in a major explosion or as a passenger in a company truck, it’s just as important that families take steps to determine what happened and find out what happens next. The victims of car and truck accidents at work. Our attorneys have handled many cases for injured oilfield workers, including a complicated case we settled for an injured oilfield truck driver.
The details of the contributing circumstances and conditions may not seem all that important—especially when families are overwhelmed and coping with life-changing injuries or the loss of a loved one. However, the details may be more important than you realize. Before you sign any papers or accept a settlement offer for your work injury in a vehicle accident, start investigating your rights and getting answers by contacting VB Attorneys online or calling us at 1-877-724-7800.