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Oil Rig Explosions Highlight Indifference to Safety

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Last Wednesday, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board issued a rare but scathing indictment of the oil and gas industry for the lack of regulation and supervision of the onshore oil and gas industry. The report analyzes an explosion that killed five oil field workers near Quinton, Oklahoma. The executive director of the Chemical Safety Board directly states that this tragedy could have been avoided.

Normally, when I see that language, it suggests that well-recognized industry safety measures were ignored—measures which, if followed, would have prevented the explosion.

In this case, an 18-month investigation found that improper drilling and testing of the well led to a blowout preventer failing. Without proper safety systems in place, gas filled the well after the drill bit, and drill pipe was removed. For approximately 14 hours, gas built up in the well, eventually leading to the explosion and resulting fire. The investigation found significant lapses in safety practices and a lack of adequate safety management at the well.

If you have been following the McCraw Law Group or me for any length of time, you know that we are all about public safety and the role of the civil justice system in improving public safety. You have likely heard me repeat the phrase that all safety rules are written in the blood of innocent victims. What that means is that safety rules are designed after tragedies have already occurred to prevent their re-occurrence.

Understanding existing safety rules is critical when prosecuting a personal injury case in any industry. These rules exist precisely because someone else has been injured in the past. When a company’s management does not enforce those known safety rules, it is not a question of if a tragedy will happen, but when and to whom.

When I have found serious safety violations during an investigation for a personal injury suit, there often seems to be a malaise, conscious indifference to following the rules. Across many different industries, businesses act as if safety rules make it harder to make money and can, therefore, be disregarded when they are inconvenient.

Indifference to safety is evidence of why the civil justice system and the role of trial by jury are paramount to building a safer world. Show a jury the violations and give them the tools to hold a wrongdoer fully financially accountable and even the most brazen safety manager learns to sing a different tune.