An overview of accidents in leading Texas industries like agriculture and energy
Texas boasts the second-largest economy in the United States. As a stand-alone country, Texas would be the 10th largest economy in the world.
In this article, we’ll take a look at industrial accidents, explore the largest industries in Texas and the state’s most infamous industrial disasters, and examine what options injured workers have in the event of an industrial accident.
What is an industrial accident?
Generally speaking, when people refer to an “industrial accident,” they’re referring to an accident that happens to an industrial company employee during the course of their work, or an accident that’s caused by an industrial company and impacts a lot of people or a large geographic area.
The majority of industrial accidents occur because of negligence. Some common industrial accidents include:
- Electrical accidents
- Exposure to toxic chemicals
- Oil spills
- Accidents involving heavy machinery
- Falling debris
- Forklift accidents
What are the major industries in Texas?
There are a number of sizeable industries in Texas, including:
However, 2 industries are larger and have more industrial accidents than all others. Let’s take a closer look at the agriculture and oil industries in Texas.
Texas agriculture industry
Texas has more farms than any other state in the country.
Unfortunately, agriculture is one of the most hazardous industries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 100 agriculture workers suffer lost-work-time injuries every day.
What’s more, agriculture is one of the few industries where family members (who often live and work on the job site) are also at risk for fatal and non-fatal injuries.
Tractor rollovers are the leading cause of death on farms. However, fatal and non-fatal injuries can also be caused by:
- Unsanitary conditions
- Zoonotic infection and related hazards
- Respiratory distress
Texas oil and gas industry
Most people associate oil with Texas. But is this association warranted?
Texas is the leading producer of crude oil, accounting for 22% of all crude oil production in the US. The oil industry in Texas is responsible for 1.8 million jobs and the industry has brought more than $10 billion in taxes and royalties.
Like agriculture, the oil and gas industry is extremely dangerous. Workers deal with highly-combustible and highly-flammable materials, and often work long labor-intensive hours.
Just how dangerous is the oil and gas industry?
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most common causes of injuries in the oil and gas industry are:
- Impact with objects and equipment
- Transportation accidents
How is OSHA involved in industrial accidents?
OSHA, a branch of the US Department of Labor & Industries, is charged with protecting American industrial workers from negligent employers. Since industrial workplace accidents are so common, OSHA has established safety rules that all employers must follow.
If an industrial employer violates one of these federal rules, proof of the violation will go a long way in helping to support an employee’s negligence claim.
Infamous industrial disasters in Texas
Texas, a state that tends to do everything “bigger” than other states, has had more than its fair share of industrial disasters in the last century.
Here are some of the most deadly industrial disasters in the state’s history:
Deadliest Industrial Disasters in Texas
- The West Fertilizer Company explosion. Many people still remember the fertilizer plant explosion that rocked the small town of West, Texas on April 17, 2013. The West Fertilizer Company storage and distribution facility, located 18 miles north of Waco, caught fire and caused an ammonium nitrate explosion while emergency services were responding. The explosion killed 15 people, injured 160, and destroyed or damaged over 150 buildings. The West plant had last been inspected by OSHA in 1985.
- Texas City Refinery explosion. The 2nd largest oil refinery in Texas exploded in March 2005, killing 15 workers and injuring more than 170 others. OSHA ultimately proved that the disaster was caused by operator error. OSHA's report also identified "numerous failings in equipment, risk management, staff management, working culture at the site, maintenance and inspection and general health and safety assessments."
- Phillips Disaster of 1989. The Phillips disaster of 1989 took place on October 23rd in Pasadena, Texas, near the Houston Ship Channel. The facility, which produced HDPE plastic materials, was undergoing routine maintenance when nearly 40 tons of highly-flammable gases were accidentally released due to mechanical error and quickly ignited, causing an explosive force equivalent to 2.4 tons of TNT that registered a 3.5 on the Richter scale. Twenty-three people lost their lives and 314 were injured.
- Texas City cargo boat explosion. Shockingly, the 2005 BP refinery explosion wasn't even the worst industrial disaster to happen in the town of Texas City. In 1947, a cargo ship carrying 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer en route to Europe caught fire and detonated in the Port of Texas City, resulting in a chain of explosions that killed 581 people and left 113 unaccounted for. The force of the blast, originating from the French-registered SS Grandcamp, was so strong that airplanes flying nearby had their wings ripped off and people in Louisiana felt the shock 250 miles away. The Texas City disaster of 1947 is considered the worst industrial accident in American history.
- ARCO Chemical Company explosion. ARCO Chemical Company's Channelview plant was the site of an industrial explosion that occurred just after midnight on July 5, 1990, killing 17 workers and flattening an area the size of a city block. It’s believed the petrochemical plant developed explosive conditions when an important oxygen analyzer malfunctioned, leading operators to let oxygen levels increase to dangerous levels. ARCO agreed to pay $3,481,300 in penalties proposed by OSHA, which was the largest monetary settlement on record for safety violations at the time.
What happens if you’re injured at work?
If you’re hurt on-the-job in Texas, you can generally receive compensation by filing a workers’ compensation claim. Let’s take a broad look at some of the steps you’ll need to follow.
Step 1: See a doctor
Your boss will have a list of healthcare professionals who are covered under your workers’ compensation insurance plan. These are the doctors you should use during the duration of your claim. If you choose to use your personal doctor, the system might not pay your medical bills.
Step 2: Tell your employer that you were injured
In Texas, workers’ compensation is governed by the Texas Department of Insurance. The law says that employees have 30 working days after the injury to report the injury to an employer. Provide your boss with written notification; a verbal “Hey, boss, I broke my leg” or “Hey, boss, I got hurt in an oil explosion” isn’t going to cut it.
In addition, you must send a completed Employee’s Claim for Compensation for a Work-Related Injury or Occupational Disease form to the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation within 1 year of the date of injury.
Step 3: Your employer reports your injury to the insurance company
Under Texas law, your employer has 8 days to inform the insurance company of your injury.
Step 4: The insurance company pays or denies your claim
Once the insurance company evaluates your claim, they will either offer an admission of liability or deny the claim outright. This can also be called a “notice of contest.” Common reasons for denial are lack of information regarding the accident and the insurance company believing the accident wasn’t work-related.
The Texas Labor Code states that workers are entitled to 4 different types of benefits:
- Income benefits (sometimes called “wage loss benefits”) are equal to a certain percentage of the average weekly wages lost as a result of a temporary or permanent disability.
- Medical benefits pay for reasonable and necessary medical care to treat your work-related injury or illness
- Vocational rehabilitation benefits help the injured employee find alternative employment (if the employee can’t return to their previous job).
- Death benefits equal to 75% of employee's average weekly wage can be paid to legal beneficiaries, along with up to $10,000 in burial expenses, if the employee dies from a work-related injury or illness.
Unfortunately, many insurance companies try to minimize a workers’ compensation payout even if the injury is legitimate.
If you were denied workers’ compensation benefits (or if you weren’t awarded all the benefits you feel you deserve), you should speak with a Texas attorney. Your attorney will be able to help you through the negotiation and appeal process.
Keep in mind that, while a workers’ compensation claim is the most common option for recovering damages following an industrial accident or injury, other options may exist as well.
Additionally, not all employers have to carry workers’ compensation insurance. If your employer doesn’t carry workers’ compensation insurance, a personal injury lawsuit filed against your employer might be appropriate.
The bottom line is that you should consult a personal injury or workers’ compensation attorney in your area if you or a loved one were injured in a Texas industrial accident.