The four energy firms were fined a total of $70,711 for allowing accumulated vapors in a crude oil tank pipeline to explode while the affected employees were busy merging two batteries owned by Anadarko Petroleum Corporation.
Oscar Lopez Velasquez of Greeley, Colorado died in the explosion. His three coworkers were rushed to the hospital with third-degree burns.
OSHA’s investigation found three separate hazardous violations including inadequate inspection of the worksite, failure to isolate vapors, and introducing flames into an area that had exposed flammable gas.
In the wake of the accident, OSHA Area Director in Denver, Herb Gibson, is highlighting the danger of hydrocarbon vapors.
“Oil and gas industry employers must take proper precautions for hot work in the presence of flammable hydrocarbon vapors,” The Denver Channel reports Gibson saying. “OSHA and the industry have issued guidance for employers on the hazards of flammable materials and appropriate protective measures.”
Even commonplace accidents can endanger workers. Nearly a quarter (22%) of slip and fall accidents result in a full month away from work or more, resulting in lost wages, pain, suffering, and undue stress. Of course, pipeline workers face dangers beyond slips and falls.
About 35% of work-related injuries and 14% of deaths result from machine accidents each year, and the oil and gas industry can be especially dangerous for workers in the field.
Providing safe work environments for employees has been OSHA’s prerogative since 1971 when then-president Richard Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Since then, it has been the mission of OSHA to “assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.”
The work injury problem is not limited to America, as the Institute for Work and Health in Canada (OSHA equivalent), has data that shows employees that have only worked at their position for a month are three times more likely to suffer an injury resulting in lost time.
While no company wants to be fined by OSHA, the organization has helped enforce rules that keep workers safe. A study conducted in 2012 showed that there was a statistically significant 9.4% decline in injuries when OSHA made random safety inspections. Better than that, the reduced injury rates came at no cost to the businesses being randomly inspected.
Even more compelling is the fact that since 1971, workplace deaths have been halved and injuries and illnesses have dropped 40%, confirming OSHA’s existence as a positive force for employees.
While OSHA aims to quash unsafe working conditions nationwide, the death of Mr. Velasquez reminds everyone that there is yet work to be done.