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Oil field burns can result in $1 million in medical expenses

A number of previous posts in this blog have discussed the risk of serious on-the-job injuries to Montana workers in the Bakken oil fields. Among the most painful and disabling injuries that occur in the oil fields are severe burns.

There have been over 3,100 burn injuries in the last five years to workers in the North Dakota oil fields alone. Oil field burns tend to be very severe. One surgeon says they are three or four times larger than the burns of the average patient in a specialized burn unit. They can burn down to the bone, and sometimes require the amputation of limbs. They are extremely painful and in some cases they are fatal. They are also extremely expensive to treat. Treating an oil field burn victim in a burn unit can result in medical expenses of $1 million.

Severe oil field burns result in the destruction of the dermis, the second skin layer which contains sweat glands and blood vessels. Treatment includes replacement of the dermis with an artificial skin layer made from shark cartilage and cow collagen. This layer is then covered with a layer of healthy skin from another part of the victim's body.

The surgery is only the beginning of the recovery. Oil field burn victims can require physical therapy for years after the accident. Severe burn victims are also at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Montana workers who suffer burn injuries in an oil field accident are entitled to collect workers' compensation benefits for medical expenses and lost wages due to temporary or permanent disability. If the negligence of a third party other than the worker's employer caused the fire or explosion, the employee also has the right to bring a civil lawsuit against that party and recover additional damages.

Source: Minneapolis StarTribune, "Twin Cities hospitals are front line in treating Bakken burn victims," Maya Rao, Feb. 15, 2015

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