Worker Safety in Question after Recent Surge in Workplace Tragedies

The nation has been rocked in recent weeks by headline-grabbing workplace disasters at an offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 workers, and a coal mine explosion that killed 29 workers in West Virginia.

The offshore semisubmersible rig Deepwater Horizon was torn by an explosion April 20 that ignited a fire that eventually toppled the rig, sending it under the water about 41 miles off the coast of Louisiana.

Besides the fatalities and injuries suffered by those workers on the rig, the environmental damage caused by the catastrophic failure will likely be felt for years.

Coal Mine Disaster

Hundreds of miles away from the disaster in the Gulf, federal safety inspectors who visited the Upper Big Branch coal mine in Montcoal, West Virginia, found Massey Energy's managers showing "reckless disregard" for coalminer safety. According to an inspector's notes, senior managers had told a foreman to ignore a citation for improper ventilation.

The investigation of the deadly April 5 explosion is now focused on ventilation problems that might have caused a buildup of extremely combustible coal dust and methane.

Inspectors from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration visited the facility more than once in January, issuing sharply worded citations to managers who complained that the MSHA was being too tough on Massey.

According to inspector notes released to the Washington Post, one inspector wrote that Massey "has shown high negligence due to fact of management knowing where [the ventilation] problem is."

Though the problem found in January was addressed by Massey, investigators are looking at ventilation problems leading to the same explosive concentration of methane and coal dust.

Blowout in the Gulf?

An investigation into the explosion on the offshore oil rig that went up in flames on April 20 hasn't uncovered a cause yet. A Minerals Management Service spokesperson wrote to the Los Angeles Times that it appears a blowout may have triggered what could turn out to be one of the worst U.S. oil rig tragedies in a generation.

A blowout is an uncontrollable surge of natural gas or oil that can tear a rig apart and ignite, causing injuries and fatalities among oil platform workers.

Personal injury attorneys who focus on offshore worker injuries told the Houston Chronicle that oil companies are notorious for underreporting injuries. One personal injury lawyer told the paper that company officials deny that injuries took place in incidents offshore to keep the injury rates artificially low.

Industry observers say accidents, injuries and deaths are all likely to rise as exploration for oil and gas, driven by high prices, continues to widen.

Since 2006, there have been 509 fires recorded on Gulf of Mexico oil rigs, according to the MMS. In that same time, there have been 35 fatal incidents on the rigs concentrated off of the coasts of Texas, Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states.

In eight of 10 recent fires that caused injury or death on offshore drilling rigs and oil platforms, investigators have found potential safety violations.

Workers Protecting Themselves and Their Families

If you are a worker who has been injured in a workplace incident, whether on an oil rig or in a factory, company vehicle or any other work-related place or activity, contact a Texas personal injury attorney who can examine the facts of your case and advise you of your legal options.