Oil and natural gas are a major industry in Ohio. The majority of homes in Ohio are heated and powered by natural gas, and private wells produce a significant volume of natural gas that is transported via pipelines throughout the state and around the country.
Workers in natural gas put in long, demanding days. Those involved in extraction (including fracking), processing, and transportation of natural gas are at risk for a wide range of serious injuries and even death.
Over a 5-year period, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded a total of 386 fatalities nationwide among workers in the oil and gas industry. Many more workers are seriously injured every year in work-related natural gas accidents.
Colombo Law can help if you were hurt or if a member of your family was injured or killed while working in the natural gas industry. Please call (614) 362-7000 today for a free consultation with a Columbus work injury lawyer in Ohio.
Common Work-Related Injuries in the Natural Gas Industry
Natural gas is extracted by drilling into subterranean shale deposits and releasing the gas trapped inside. A significant portion of Ohio rests on a thick layer of Utica Shale. The abundance of Utica Shale has made the Buckeye State a major site for natural gas drilling over the last decade or so.
Unfortunately, the companies that drill for natural gas in the region do not always put worker safety first. This creates a number of dangers for natural gas workers, including:
Natural Gas Well Site Explosions
Drill site and fracking site explosions are perhaps the most devastating accidents associated with the natural gas industry. A multitude of different issues can cause a natural gas well site to explode, including:
- Failure to contain the release of pressurized gases
- Equipment failure
- Inadequate training and supervision of natural gas workers
- Uncontrolled fires and failure to put procedures in place to prevent fires
- Failure to install safety equipment and train employees in its use
The risk of explosions is not confined to natural gas wells and drilling sites. Natural gas is highly combustible. As such, those who work in and around natural gas processing plants, pipelines, and more are at risk if safety precautions are not followed.
Natural Gas Chemical Exposure
Much has been written about the toxic effects of fracking on groundwater. However, for natural gas workers, the risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals is more immediate.
Whether through inhalation, accidental ingestion, and/or absorption via the skin, the following chemicals used in the natural gas industry can cause a wide range of worker health problems:
- Hydrogen fluoride
- Ethylene glycol
- Propargyl alcohol
- Diesel fuel
Many of these chemicals are classified as probable human carcinogens. In addition to long-term adverse effects, acute exposure can lead to a host of serious health issues that constitute a medical emergency.
Exposure to Crystalline Silica in Natural Gas Drilling
Hazardous chemicals are not the only kind of toxin natural gas workers may encounter in the course of their employment. Drilling into shale releases tiny particles of crystalline silica. Inhalation of crystalline silica is associated with a number of health concerns, including:
- Lung cancer
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD
- Silicosis (a chronic lung disease caused by the scarring and inflammation that occurs when crystalline silica is inhaled)
- Kidney disease
- Autoimmune disorders
Natural gas companies have an obligation to provide workers with protective gear and training to reduce the risk of so-called “dust injury.” When they fail in this duty, natural gas workers may be able to bring claims for the harm to their health.
Defective Equipment and Natural Gas Injuries
The equipment used to mine for and extract natural gas requires regular maintenance and replacement when it is no longer functional. Similarly, natural gas workers need to be provided with equipment that limits the risk of injury and illness on the job.
Unfortunately, natural gas companies often put profits ahead of people. These companies often overlook or even ignore the need to repair or replace worn or damaged equipment. As a result, when an accident occurs, workers are frequently left unprotected.
Natural Gas Trucking Accidents
Commercial trucks have a number of uses in the natural gas industry, from carrying natural gas in reinforced tanks to hauling water for use in fracking. Due to the high volume of rigs used in natural gas operations, Columbus and Ohio as a whole are no stranger to truck accidents.
Multiple issues can lead to trucking accidents involving natural gas industry drivers, including:
- Excessive speed
- Traffic congestion
- Driver fatigue
- Negligent hiring practices
- Insufficient driver training and supervision
- Overloading trucks
- Improperly designed and maintained roads
- Poor maintenance and inspection of trucks
Both regular motorists and truck drivers who are on the job can suffer serious and even fatal injuries in crashes with large trucks. The Columbus work injury lawyers at Colombo Law has extensive experience representing the victims of natural gas trucking accidents.
Common Injuries in the Natural Gas Industry
Natural gas workers may sustain a variety of injuries on the job. Claims commonly involve the following types of injury:
- Burn injuries
- Crush injuries
- Loss of limbs and digits
- Broken bones and orthopedic injuries
- Damage to internal organs
- Permanent scarring
- Head and brain injuries
- Damage to the inner ear and hearing loss
- Vision loss and eye injuries
- Neck and back injuries
- Spinal cord injuries (potentially resulting in paralysis)
- Psychological injuries
These and other injuries carry enormous financial costs and often have a major physical, mental, and emotional impact on victims. If you or a loved one suffered harm in a natural gas industry accident, Colombo Law can seek fair compensation on your behalf.
Compensation for a Natural Gas Injury
The natural gas industry is bound by a complex system of state laws and federal regulations. In the event of an accident, you might have multiple options for making a claim.
You should consult a knowledgeable lawyer as soon as possible for assistance with a natural gas injury claim. Colombo Law has in-depth knowledge and experience litigating cases against natural gas companies in Ohio and neighboring West Virginia.
Workers’ Compensation for Natural Gas Injuries
The first option to consider after any work-related injury is whether you qualify for workers’ compensation. Most natural gas workers are employed by private companies that are subject to Ohio’s mandatory workers’ comp insurance requirements.
Workers’ compensation claims are handled on a no-fault basis. You do not have to prove that your employer or another party was negligent and this negligence caused your injuries. Rather, you will only need to show that your injuries occurred on the job or in the course of your employment.
If your claim is approved, workers’ comp will cover the cost of medical care for any work-related injuries. You may also be entitled to benefits for disability, wage loss, and more. In addition, families who lose a loved one on the job may qualify for a death benefit.
Although workers’ compensation covers a number of losses you and your family may sustain after a natural gas accident, the available benefits are unlikely to make the victims “whole.” It is important to speak to a Columbus natural gas injury lawyer to identify any additional claims you may be able to bring.
Personal Injury Claims for Natural Gas Injuries
Natural gas workers may be able to bring a personal injury claim for injuries and damages sustained on the job if they can prove that third party negligence was a factor in the accident. Many different third parties may be involved in the drilling and extraction process, including contractors and subcontractors, product and equipment manufacturers, landowners, etc.
There are also limited circumstances where an employer can be sued for a work-related injury. Namely, it must be shown that “the employer committed the tortious act [i.e., wrongful act] with the intent to injure another or with the belief that the injury was substantially certain to occur” (see Ohio Revised Code § 2745.01). This latter scenario is known as the “intentional tort” exception to the employer’s immunity to liability under workers’ comp; these claims are extremely difficult to prove.
If you have a viable personal injury claim for a natural gas industry accident, you may be entitled to compensation for the following:
- Current medical expenses and the cost of future treatment, surgery, and rehabilitation
- Lost wages
- Loss of earning capacity
- Out-of-pocket expenses related to your injuries
- Pain and suffering
- Mental and emotional distress
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Wrongful death, if a loved one is killed in a natural gas accident
Bystanders who are harmed by the operations of a natural gas well site, processing plant, or pipeline (as well as those injured in accidents with trucks and other vehicles operated by natural gas companies) may be entitled to the same types of compensation. Whether you were hurt on the job, at home, or on the road and you believe a natural gas company may be to blame, you should speak to an attorney as soon as possible.
Natural gas workers and their families are at a significant disadvantage following an accident. The companies that extract, refine, and transport natural gas are large and powerful. Hazardous conditions that threaten the safety of workers and the community at large are often ignored, swept under the rug, and – when disaster strikes – hushed up.
If you were injured or lost a member of your family in one of these natural gas disasters, you need an experienced law firm to represent your best interest and pursue the full compensation you deserve. Colombo Law has unparalleled skill and resources handling these claims. We thoroughly investigate the accident and your injuries to ensure that all liable parties are held accountable.
We make each and every client a No Fee Promise. You pay nothing upfront and won’t be charged a fee until we settle or win your case at trial. No matter how long it takes and what is involved, you pay nothing until we win.
Please call Colombo Law at (614) 362-7000 today for a free case review. Our Columbus natural gas injury attorneys serve clients throughout Ohio.