Oilfield Accidents: Key Legal Rights Workers Need to Know

Oilfield Accidents: Key Legal Rights Workers Need to Know

Jul 5, 2024 | Jones Act Lawyer, Workers' Comp, Workplace Injury

It’s estimated that there are over 119,000 workers in the oil and gas extraction industry. There’s no denying that oilfield jobs come with good pay and benefits.

Unfortunately, they are also some of the most dangerous positions out there. Even when a workplace is perfectly safe according to OSHA standards there’s still the potential for oilfield accidents.

If you or someone you loved has been injured in an oilfield accident you must know all of your legal rights.

But what are some of the key legal rights you should know? And what types of compensation can you get if you were injured? In this guide, we’ll answer these questions so you can get the money you deserve following an oilfield accident. 

Key Legal Right #1: A Safe Work Environment

Just because the oilfield environment is inherently dangerous doesn’t excuse a potentially hazardous work environment. According to OSHA, all oilfield employers have a legal responsibility to protect their employees through oilfield safety procedures.

That starts with construction standards on the rig itself to minimize any potential hazards. However, it also extends to the process of hiring and training new employees.

If an employee doesn’t know what they’re doing then the possibility of a serious accident increases not just for them but for everyone.

All employees need to be wearing PPE and know the standards and procedures set forth by OSHA. You have a right to a safe work environment and if you find an employer is cutting corners you can take legal action.

Key Legal Right #2: Fair Pay and Overtime

Some oil companies will try to avoid paying their workers fair wages by classifying them as contractors instead of employees. Or they might hold out on paying overtime.

Worker misclassification and failing to pay overtime or fair wages are both illegal. As such, if you’ve been a victim of this you have legal grounds to recoup your financial losses in court. 

Key Legal Right #3: Protection Against Discrimination and Wrongful Termination

It’s illegal to fire or harass an employee because of discrimination. Some common forms of discrimination include things like:

  • Race
  • Gender
  • Religion
  • Political belief
  • Marriage status
  • Disabilities

In some work cultures, it’s also common to retaliate against employees if they make “trouble”.

This might include reporting an unsafe work condition to OSHA or filing for workers’ compensation benefits. If your company fires, demotes or retaliates in any way against you for doing these things, then it’s against the law. 

Key Legal Right #4: The Right to Heal Before Returning to Work

It’s estimated that over seven years there have been nearly 2,101 severe injuries from oilfield accidents. Following one of these accidents you have the right to wait for your injury to fully heal before returning to work.

Unfortunately, many employers seem to ignore this fact. Some might be understanding at first. But then when the weeks and months go by, they’ll start to pressure you.

Typically this ends with a threat of either returning to work or facing termination. This practice is illegal.

Also, keep in mind that you have the right to heal from both physical and mental injuries. So if you’re experiencing PTSD following an accident this is a perfectly valid reason to refrain from returning to work. 

Types of Compensation for Oilfield Accidents

There are two main types of compensation you can get for oilfield injuries: workers’ compensation and personal injury lawsuits. Workers’ compensation provides you with money for both medical expenses and lost wages.

It’s typically the most straightforward method and you can get compensation for an oilfield accident fairly quickly. However, there are some blindspots with this form of compensation. It might not cover all of your medical costs.

Similarly, it won’t act as an entire wage replacement or cover things like pain and suffering. If your injury was caused by the negligence of any employer you might want to consider a personal injury lawsuit instead.

This type of case requires a lot more work. You’ll need to prove in court that your employer was negligent. However, the compensation covers a greater range of damages, like loss of future earnings and pain/suffering caused by things like lost limbs or spinal injuries.

Keep in mind that sometimes accepting workers’ compensation benefits can forfeit your right to file a personal injury lawsuit. As such, we recommend meeting with an attorney first.

They can advise you on the best course of action for your specific case. Just make sure you go with a maritime accident attorney who specializes in these types of oilfield accidents. Otherwise, they might not be knowledgeable enough to help you. 

Does the Jones Act Apply to Oilfield Workers?

The Jones Act was passed to protect maritime workers from injuries on the job. Specifically, it allows these workers to sue their employers for personal injuries.

This is a luxury that’s often denied by many other occupations. However, oilfield workers can fall into a bit of a gray zone when it comes to The Jones Act. Specifically, whether or not they can be classified as a seaman.

Ultimately, it depends on the specific type of rig you work on. If you work on an offshore jack-up rig or a similar type of sea vessel, then you do qualify for The Jones Act. However, there’s an important caveat.

You need to spend at least 30% of your time at sea to fall into this classification.

The good news is that this applies to almost all oilfield workers. Because of the long hours, you’ll likely spend nearly all of your working time at sea. As such, you’re entitled to workers’ compensation under The Jones Act. 

Involved in an Oilfield Accident? Contact Barnes Law Firm

We hope this guide helped you learn more about your legal rights following oilfield accidents. Often oilfield workers make the mistake of hiring a general personal injury firm following an accident.

This isn’t the best decision because these lawyers often don’t understand the intricacies of this specialized law. Instead, go with the professionals at Barnes Law Firm.

We have extensive experience with a wide variety of oilfield cases. So get in touch with us if you’re ready for the compensation you deserve.