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OSHA investigation results in citations for oil field company

Recent estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey indicate that the Bakken Shale - the oil-rich geological formation that underlies much of North Dakota and reaches into Montana - contains far more oil than previously thought. The USGS now believes the Bakken contains twice as much oil, and three times as much natural gas, as their previous estimates.

This means the oil boom in this part of the country is far from over, which is good economic news. More jobs are likely to be created. But oil field jobs can be hazardous. And unfortunately, not all oil field employers put the safety of their workers first. For someone injured in an oil field accident, unsafe working conditions are the dark side of the oil field boom.

Recently the Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited a North Dakota energy company for nine serious safety violations. The OSHA investigation arose out of the death of an oil field worker in March. The 31-year-old man died inside a vacuum truck when an agitator unexpectedly started up.

According to OSHA, the company failed to have any kind of safety protocol for workers in confined spaces like the vacuum truck. Other OSHA violations included inadequate emergency response procedures and insufficient atmospheric testing, among other violations. Under OSHA regulations, the violations were characterized as serious, meaning they carry a substantial likelihood of injury or death. OSHA has proposed a fine of $33,000; the company has 15 business days to pay the fine, request a meeting with OSHA, or fight the citations.

When a worker is injured on the job, he or she is entitled to make a workers' compensation claim. The benefits include lost wages, medical expenses and temporary and permanent disability benefits. Workers' compensation benefits are paid regardless of whether the employer is at fault, but the amount recoverable is limited by the workers' compensation statutes, and the employer who pays the benefits is immune from a civil lawsuit. In a case involving serious injury or death, it is important to determine whether any non-employer third party was at fault in causing the accident, because that third party does not enjoy the employer's immunity from suit.

Source: Bismarck Tribune, "OSHA cites North Dakota energy company for safety violations," Lauren Donovan, April 24, 2013

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