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Hard Hat Area: Dangers of The Rig Floor

by | Aug 27, 2019 | Catastrophic Injuries, Oilfield Accidents, Workplace Accidents, Wrongful Death | 0 comments

Oilfield workers have one of the most dangerous jobs in America. Over one hundred oil and gas extraction workers are killed on the job each year, not including the thousands who suffer career-ending injuries. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) closely regulates gas and oil extraction to minimize dangers on the rig floor. Some regulations mandate falling hazard protections, that is, hard hats, but workers in these designated hardhat areas face serious dangers beyond falling debris.

Roughnecks injured on the rig floor might have claims for damages in addition to compensation available through worker’s compensation. Connect with the experienced Texas oilfield injury attorneys at the Wyatt Law Firm for your free and confidential case review. We’ve recovered $3,900,000 for a client injured in an oilfield explosion and nearly $3,000,000 after a victim died due to industrial negligence. Let us see what we can do for you.

Most Common Causes of Catastrophic Rig Floor Injuries on Texas Drill Sites

Welcome to the rig floor, where more oilfield accidents happen than any other location on the drilling rig. Roughnecks on the rig floor are some of the most prone to injury, positioned next to the moving drill string, using heavy tongs and fast-moving spinning chains, heaving the slips, and working around the rotary table.

Here are some of the major hazards roughnecks and floorhands face when on the rig floor.

#1. Cuidado: Piso Mojado

Slipping and falling is probably the most common rig floor accident. Drilling mud and crude oil slicken the metal floors, even coating the rubber tread on work boots. Falling on the rig floor, however, also means possibly falling beneath or between heavy equipment. To prevent falls, staff must keep the rig floor tidy, and companies should take extra measures (adding non-slip mats, etc.).

2. The Tongs

Manning the tongs on the rig floor is a dangerous part of the job. Roughnecks use hydraulic or pneumatic metal tongs, which act like suspended pairs of giant pliers, to grab and wrench pipe sections while tripping in and out of the well. Roughnecks risk pinching and crushing injuries from tongs, especially on the fingers and hands. They can also be struck by swinging tongs or even falling tongs, which sometimes fail from lost bearings or pins, rusty chains, or corroded cables.

3. Spinning Chains

Some rigs still use spinning chains to screw pipe sections together faster, though many rigs phased them out due to high accident rates. The fast-moving chain can easily trap objects such as clothing and fingers as it’s strung around the pipe—causing injury and even amputation. Taut spinning chains can also unravel or break suddenly, whipping floorhands with enough force to break bones and lacerate skin.

4. Slips

Rotary slips are heavy, tapered metal plugs ranging from 100-200 lbs. Roughnecks grab the handles and heave one into the rotary table when they want to suspend the drill string during tripping. Most injuries from slips are caused by improperly lifting one, causing back, arm, and other stress injuries, though dropping a slip or falling with one is also dangerous.

5. Rotary Table and Kelly Bushing

The rotary table is a rotating section of the floor (on many rigs) that uses a kelly system to spin the drill string through rock. It is most dangerous when people or other objects get caught in it. Getting caught between the kelly bushing and rotary mechanism can cause serious crushing injury, and the moving table itself poses a slipping hazard.

6. Falling Debris

What goes up might come down. Roughnecks and floorhands work directly below anything that might fall from the derrick. Unfortunately, a lot of heavy things can fall from the derrick, including tools, pipes, the drill string, the top drive, the crown block, and other rig structuring during mechanical failure or rig collapse. Unpredictable accidents like these claim lives every year.

Common Injuries Sustained in Oil Rig Hard Hat Areas

Oil and gas is a physically demanding industry. As such, many rig floor accidents result in disabling trauma.

Life-altering injuries commonly sustained on the rig floor include:

  • Crushed hands/arms
  • Traumatic amputations
  • Herniated discs (back and neck injuries)
  • Paralysis (spinal cord injuries)
  • Concussions/traumatic brain injuries
  • Thermal burns
  • Electrical burns
  • Oil and gas cancers
  • Facial lacerations and blindness

While workers’ compensation insurance might cover your initial medical expenses—with insurance-approved doctors, of course—and partial lost wages, this coverage seldom compensates injured roughnecks for the physical and emotional impact of catastrophic injuries.

For example, spinal cord trauma costs injured workers between $1 million and $5 million in lifetime medical expenses, not including their lost wages, reduced earning capacity, and emotional suffering. Hold these negligent corporations fully accountable for your injuries with a dedicated rig floor accident lawyer.

Parties Potentially Liable For Texas Oil Rig Injuries and Safety Failures

For most injured roughnecks, workers’ comp isn’t their only option for recovering financial compensation. Many hardhat area accidents occur due to subcontractor and corporate negligence. This means entities other than your employer—who workers’ compensation laws protect—might bear direct liability for your injuries.

At the Wyatt Law Firm, our dedicated oil and gas lawyers diligently investigate your claims and might demand damages from:

  • Oil Rig Owners – Most employees on the rig floor do not work directly for the rig owner. Big oil companies and/or their subsidiaries generally own the rig, but contractors run day-to-day operations. The rig owner bears ultimate responsibility for keeping the worksite safe for contractors and employees. This includes clearing the rig floor of debris and slipping hazards, ensuring equipment functions safely, and putting safeguards in place for workers. While big oil companies contract these responsibilities out to others, it does not eliminate their legal obligations.
  • Drill Site Owners – Sometimes, the same companies own the rig and drill site, but in many cases, oil companies purchase the mineral (oil and gas) rights from property owners. Injured workers might also hold property owners liable for rig floor accidents under Texas premises liability law.
  • Contractors – Running an oil rig involves teams of professionals, many of whom have different employers. If someone other than your employer or co-employee caused the accident, you might hold them and their employer liable for personal injury damages.
  • Drill Equipment Manufacturers – The dangers of the rig floor frequently stem from industrial drilling equipment. Manufacturers of these products may bear direct liability for injuries caused by defective, unsafe, or negligently designed products. This might include injuries caused when manufacturers do not provide proper warnings or instructions about certain hazards.

These large corporations often carry high-value injury liability policies, but they seldom admit liability and tender settlements. Instead, they frequently deny claims by incorrectly citing Texas workers’ compensation and premises liability laws. You can’t take on big oil alone. These companies keep teams of risk management professionals dedicated to reducing their financial liability.

Options For Recovering Damages After Rig Floor Accidents

Most claimants benefit from immediately requesting workers’ compensation coverage after workplace injuries. This insurance covers initial medical expenses and lost wages, giving employees the breathing room necessary to assess liability and connect with local personal injury lawyers. In most cases, employees injured in dangerous hardhat area accidents might recover damages from third parties through lawsuits or via insurance negotiations.

1. Filing Personal Injury Cases in Civil Court

Most hardhat area injuries result from co-worker negligence and OSHA safety violations. However, some head and spinal cord injuries occur when industrial helmets don’t function as marketed. Dangerous drill equipment could also malfunction or present unacceptable safety hazards.

Experienced oil rig accident lawyers analyze the unique facts in each case, which may support legal claims for:

  • General negligence
  • Negligence per se
  • Gross negligence (recklessness)
  • Premises liability
  • Products liability (failure to issue sufficient warnings)
  • Products liability (product or parts defects)
  • Products liability (failure to perform as marketed)
  • Wrongful death

Injured roughnecks generally have multiple legal claims following rig floor accidents, but it’s essential to preserve evidence of transient conditions and defects. If possible, have co-workers take photographs of slipping hazards, broken/dangerous equipment, and safety violations. Claimants should also immediately report accidents, even seemingly minor falls, to safety supervisors. Many back and head injuries worsen in the hours and days following the initial injury. Contacting an oil and gas accident lawyer might also help claimants obtain essential witness testimony and video evidence before big oil companies interfere with the evidence.

2. Negotiating Insurance Settlements

Despite claims to the contrary, oil companies and drill site owners generally carry massive personal injury insurance policies. Claiming this coverage, however, requires legal assistance. Most third parties defer claims to workers’ compensation or deny primary liability. Many roughnecks do not pursue these claims after receiving the initial denial. Experienced catastrophic drill site accident lawyers know how to demand insurance settlements after rig floor accidents.

At the Wyatt Law Firm, we begin this process by analyzing your claims and identifying liable corporations. We then demand evidence of coverage and policy limitations, as is your right under Texas law.

From here, our dedicated injury lawyers file claims with liability adjusters and prepare settlement demands. These demands frequently include evidence of liability (incident reports and witness testimony), medical records, expert opinions about your condition, and damage calculations. We might also include legal arguments as necessary. Insurers may offer settlements after receiving your demands, but sometimes our lawyers must sue to establish your rights.

3. Participating in Criminal & Administrative Proceedings

It costs a lot to follow OSHA safety standards on active drill sites. As such, it’s not uncommon for oil companies and contractors to cut corners. Some rig floor accidents occur after catastrophic safety failures that employees previously complained about. These cases—along with major safety failures – may trigger investigations into regulatory violations.

Following the initial accident investigation, our attorneys may help claimants file complaints with OSHA or your local Texas oil and gas office. If these complaints result in criminal charges or administrative discipline, injured employers might recover restitution or statutory damages.

Financial Damages Available After Texas Rig Floor Accidents

Because roughnecks have physically demanding jobs, severe hand damage or unmanageable back pain might cause career-ending disabilities. These injuries frequently result in drastically reduced earning capacity, lost benefits, depression, and constant nerve pain. In Texas, injured oil and gas workers might demand both economic and non-economic (pain and suffering) damages. Accidents resulting from intentional safety violations, including corporate disregard for worker health and safety, might also support punitive damage awards.

Because injured employees must file personal injury lawsuits within two years of the accident date, they may request reimbursement for past losses and payments for future anticipated damages.

Direct economic damages might include:

  • Medical facility costs (hospitals, surgical facilities, or rehabilitation homes)
  • Doctor, chiropractic, dental, and related medical provider expenses
  • Cosmetic procedures for burns and facial injuries
  • Costs of physical and cognitive therapy
  • Medication, pharmacy, medical equipment, and medical transportation expenses
  • Home nursing care and household help, i.e., dressing, cooking, or cleaning
  • Lost income and career opportunities
  • Reduced earning capacity
  • Lost benefits, including retirement contributions or healthcare coverage

Experienced oilfield injury lawyers in Texas generally work with medical, occupational, and economic experts to calculate the direct amount of these losses. Many claimants undervalue their cases and accept lowball settlements without considering their future needs.

Non-economic damages compensate injured oil workers for the indirect impact of catastrophic physical trauma, including family suffering.

Pain and suffering damages might include compensation for:

  • Physical discomfort, pain, and nerve damage
  • Frustration and inconvenience
  • Mental anguish
  • Depression and social anxiety
  • Disfigurement
  • Loss of consortium
  • Lost enjoyment of life and previous hobbies

It’s impossible to put a price on your mental and emotional health. As such, insurance companies often calculate these damages by multiplying your overall economic damages based on injury severity. The more serious and life-altering the injury, the higher the multiplication factor.

The dedicated oil rig accident lawyers at the Wyatt Law Firm know how to fight oil companies in Texas. We recovered $3,900,000 for a client burned during an oil field explosion, over $3 million when a defective helmet caused our client to suffer a traumatic brain injury, and over $1 million after oil field negligence resulted in head trauma. These awards reflect the substantial financial losses often associated with catastrophic oil rig and drill site injuries.

Recovering Damages After Fatal Rig Floor Accidents

Industrial workers, including oil and gas employees, have one of the highest professional fatality rates in the United States. Explosions due to insufficient ventilation, industrial machinery malfunctions, electrocutions, and environmental cancers all contribute to these numbers. In Texas, immediate family members may file wrongful death claims on behalf of deceased loved ones. Spouses, children, and parents may bring these lawsuits and demand damages for lost financial and emotional support. Families might also demand damages for their loved one’s pain if he suffered from extensive burns, brain trauma, or paralyzing injuries before his death.

Family members may file wrongful death lawsuits if the claimant could have filed a personal injury lawsuit following the accident. They might also petition to convert negligence litigation to wrongful death litigation if the claimant died from the underlying injuries. Spouses, children, and/or parents have two years from the date of death to file wrongful death lawsuits, but they must follow certain administrative prerequisites. The experienced wrongful death attorneys at the Wyatt Law Firm might help families of wrongfully killed oil workers in Texas throughout this difficult process.

Average Cost of Hiring Texas Injury Lawyers to Fight Oil and Gas Companies

Roughnecks suffering from devastating and often disabling injuries seldom have the income necessary to pay high hourly legal rates. Most families are emotionally and financially struggling to get by following devastating rig floor accidents. As such, compassionate personal injury attorneys accept viable oil and gas cases on a contingency fee basis. This allows claimants to retain dedicated legal counsel with experience fighting big oil without any upfront fees or costs.

In fact, your attorney doesn’t get paid unless you recover compensation. You pay no hourly fees or monthly billing statements. Most law firms even front the claims, investigation, and expert witness costs necessary to prove your claims and maximize settlement demands. In exchange, your lawyer takes a fraction of your overall personal injury recovery as her fee and reimburses the firm for prepaid expenses. Injured oil works without dedicated legal counsel do not generally recover settlements from big oil companies and rig owners.

Wyatt Law Firm Fights for Oil and Gas Workers

Although oil and gas workers accept the danger inherent in the job, the work is often made more dangerous by improper operation. Faulty parts, missed inspections, skipped protocol, poor management, and other shortcomings cause serious injuries and fatalities in the oilfields each year. However, oil and gas companies are often slow to admit when a major accident was preventable, even if it means denying injured workers their due. That’s where we come in.

If you suffered injuries or your close family member died in an oilfield accident, you may be entitled to compensation. The Wyatt Law Firm has been fighting for the victims of oilfield accidents for years, fearlessly taking on big oil to win real results for real people. We have the experience, expertise, and determination needed to win.

Call us today at (210) 340-5550 for your free case review, or submit a confidential contact via our website. Squaring up against powerful companies might seem daunting, but you are not alone. Bring our army with you.