Julio Barrera was a derrickman working in Webb County when he was killed on September 2, 2009. According to his wife, Claudia Hernandez, she recalls him telling her over the phone that the tower he was working on was not stable, but he would lose his job if he did not climb the tower. The very next day, Barrera climbed 25 feet up the derrick owned by Coastal Drilling Land Company to fix a locking pin in the metal frame. While he was on the tower, the structure began swaying, tipped over, and fatally crushed him. Barrera and his wife had two sons, and she was pregnant with their third child when he died. Even though she reached a confidential settlement with the companies responsible, she said they would not be able to give her what her kids lost.
An Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection regarding Barrera’s case determined that the rig manager along with other supervisors knew his locking pins were malfunctioning, but the company “failed to adhere to its own” safety program. According to OSHA, since 2009, at least 11 employees working for drilling companies in Eagle Ford Shale counties, which includes Webb County, have suffered deaths that could have been prevented. Federal inspectors found safety violations at every fatal accident site with some concluding that companies had not taken adequate steps to keep their workers safe.
In South Texas, one out of five fatalities OSHA has investigated in the past ten years was at an oil and gas company. OSHA launched a resource program 10 years ago called South Texas Exploration and Production Safety (STEPS). The membership to this program is voluntary for oil companies seeking ways to improve their safety record.