Know your rights if injured by chemical exposure on the job
Every day, Texas workers put their lives and safety on the line when they work on Texas oil fields. Unfortunately, oil field accidents and illnesses are far too common.
If you have been injured while working in the Texas oil industry, check out our legal guide or our overview on oil industry accidents and laws, or read on to learn more about chemical exposure injuries.
Prevalence of the problem
Between the years 2003 and 2010, a total of 823 oil and gas extraction workers died on the job and between the years of 2005-2009, the fatality rate for the oil and gas industry was seven times than the rate for all United States industries.
As activity and employment in the oil and gas industry have risen, so have injuries and fatalities.
Causes of fatalities
The most common reason for fatalities in this industry is due to vehicle accidents (transportation events – mostly in aircrafts) which accounts for 50.8% of deaths of people in the oil and gas industry.
The CDC reports that death from exposure to harmful substances/environments accounts for 12.5% of fatal injuries among workers involved in offshore oil and gas operations (2003-2010 data).
One of the most serious issues that oil and gas extraction workers face is the possibility of injury and illness due to chemical exposure.
Although employers are legally required to take preventative steps to shield employees from exposure to dangerous chemicals, some simply fail to take these precautions.
When finding a new oil source, companies may fail to provide appropriate training after quickly rushing to put a team together to begin a drilling project.
Additionally, employers sometimes neglect to provide proper safety equipment that could have prevented or minimized exposure. When employers are negligent, workers are exposed to chemicals and are at greater risk of sustaining injuries or developing illnesses.
Types of chemical exposures
Prolonged exposure to volatile chemicals used in the oil and gas industry can cause serious health consequences for employees. Workers inhale chemicals or absorb them through their skin.
They may even take home the dangerous chemicals on their clothing and expose their families to the same risks.
Injuries and illnesses
The injuries and illnesses that result from chemical exposure vary in severity and effect, depending on the type and length of exposure.
Possible injuries and illnesses include:
- Long-term respiratory problems - Ultrafine particulates may be breathed in and spread throughout the body.
- Brain damage - Prolonged exposure to certain chemicals has been linked to neurological damage.
- Burns - When dangerous chemicals make contact with the skin, workers can suffer from serious burns.
- Cancer and leukemia - Pipeline operators and crude oil shippers are at the highest rate of risk.
- Birth defects - Pregnant mothers who are exposed to dangerous chemicals on oil rigs may have a child born with birth defects.
- Headaches, nausea, dizziness and eye and skin irritation – Even with only limited exposure, many workers report more minor problems such as headaches and irritation.
Despite these many known hazards, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that there is a lack of information regarding the potential risks related to chemical exposure in the oil and gas extraction industry.
Preventing chemical exposure
Employers can take steps to minimize workers' exposure to toxic chemicals. One proven method is to provide proper protective treatment that prevents the worker from being exposed through their skin. This includes gloves, helmets and protective clothing.
Educating workers on potential risks and giving them proper training on how to handle chemicals may also help curtail the significant number of injuries in this industry.
Legal assistance and resources
If you do face injuries as a result of chemical exposure in the oil and gas industry, your medical expenses could cost thousands of dollars and you may be facing years of difficult recovery ahead.
Workers' compensation would cover your medical costs, but not pain and suffering. You may then consider hiring a Texas personal injury attorney to pursue your legal options under a personal injury claim.
Pursuing a personal injury claim in Texas
If the chemical exposure was due to your employer's failure to follow the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, you might be able to receive a significant settlement value.
If you can establish that you have been injured due to negligence, Texas law allows you to be compensated for the following:
- Medical bills.
- Any expenses related to injuries that were paid out of pocket (keep good records of all expenses)
- Wages that you have lost, as well as wages you may lose in the future due to your injuries and medical treatments/appointments.
- Past and future pain and suffering, which could be substantial in a chemical exposure case. Particularly if there are long-term health effects.
Know your rights
The law requires employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces. OSHA also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under the law. For more information see www.whistleblowers.gov for more information on workers' rights.
If you have questions or concerns about your work site, find your regional or area OSHA office through the OSHA Offices by State webpage or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).
You may also want to read:
- Oil Industry Accidents and Laws - an Overview
- Explosions in the Texas oil industry
- Respiratory problems (H2S exposure)
- Accidents when working offshore
- Plant/refinery accidents
- Oil field accidents