What you need to know about oil refineries, applicable laws, and injury compensation
An oil or petroleum refinery is an industrial process plant where crude oil is transformed into any number of useful products, including motor gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel.
Oil refineries are dangerous places to work. Workers routinely interact with large equipment and hazardous chemicals. But while workers generally understand and accept the dangers associated with oil refineries, this doesn't mean they don't have legal rights if something goes wrong.
In this article, we'll take a look at oil refineries in Texas, including why oil refinery accidents happen, the laws that apply, and the legal steps you can take if you're injured in an oil refinery accident.
Oil refinery accident statistics
The oil refining industry has long been considered one of the most dangerous industries in the United States. As a result, oil companies and manufacturers commonly contract out the most hazardous jobs to other companies, which misleadingly lowers the federal injury and fatality rate recorded by industry safety organizations like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
For example, all 15 workers who died in the 2005 Texas City oil refinery explosion were contractors, and none of their deaths are counted in the federal government's annual report for oil refining industry fatalities.
Nevertheless, the last couple of decades have seen a startling increase in reported fatalities within the oil industry—especially in Texas, where business is booming.
Common oil refinery accidents
Working in an oil refinery presents a much greater risk of accident than your typical office job. Here are some of the more common types of accidents:
- Explosions and fires. Oil refineries feature high temperatures and highly-combustible substances. On top of that, oil refineries can be massive, often producing 120,000 barrels per day. These 3 ingredients create a ticking time bomb.
- Malfunctioning equipment. Improperly inspected equipment can corrode or malfunction, as it did in the deadly Tesoro oil refinery explosion.
- Impure chemicals. There are strict guidelines when it comes to mixing chemicals for production. Violating these guidelines, either by using impure chemicals or mixing them improperly, can cause serious issues for workers.
- Toxic chemical exposure. Oil refinery workers routinely handle toxic chemicals. When these chemicals are mishandled, workers can be seriously injured. In fact, the threat posed to American workers in refineries is so severe that OSHA issued an open letter to all refinery managers, urging them to take safety seriously. An excerpt from the letter reads: “In the last fifteen years, the petroleum refining industry has had more fatal or catastrophic incidents related to the release of highly hazardous chemicals than any other industry sector.”
- Unsafe working conditions. OSHA enacts strict guidelines for refineries in order to keep workers as safe as possible. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for oil companies to violate these safety guidelines.
As Assistant Attorney General Brian Dew, representing the US Department of Labor & Industries, explained: “Tesoro is in a high-risk, high-reward business, but with a twist. They take the higher reward, but it's the employees that are put at risk.”
Legal options for injured refinery workers
If you've been injured in an oil refinery accident, you have 2 main options to recover damages:
If your employer carries workers' compensation insurance, you can file a workers' compensation claim. In order to receive compensation (which may include income benefits, medical benefits, vocational rehabilitation benefits, and death benefits), you must prove that the injury occurred in the course and scope of your employment. It's not necessary to prove that your employer acted “negligently” or otherwise did anything wrong.
If your employer doesn't carry workers' compensation insurance, you can file a personal injury lawsuit. In order to receive compensation, you'll need to prove that someone else's negligence caused your injuries.
You can find an attorney using our free online directory.
OSHA, a branch of the US Department of Labor & Industries, is charged with the colossal effort of protecting American workers, including oil refinery and plant laborers, from negligent employers. Since industrial workplace accidents are so common, OSHA has established rules that all employers must follow.
If, in the event of an accident, the refinery is shown to have violated these federal rules, the violation will go a long way in helping to prove that your employer was negligent.
Keep in mind that you can report an OSHA violation (and you can do so anonymously). To do so:
Remember, you always have the right to hire an attorney to help with your claim. What's more, most attorneys offer a free initial consultation.
If you're having trouble locating an attorney, consider using our free online directory.