HomeLibraryMaritime AccidentsRepeated safety violations put oil rig workers at risk: what can you do if you are injured?

Repeated safety violations put oil rig workers at risk: what can you do if you are injured?

In the past five years, federal Mineral Management Service (MMS) officials investigated nearly 400 offshore incidents and documented almost 200 safety and environmental violations aboard oil platforms and oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. These include five deepwater well blowouts in the last 18 months.

These incidents were not minor events.  They included flash fires caused by welding sparks, workers who fell dozens of feet through open holes that were unmarked, exploding compressors, and overloaded cranes that dropped their loads on workers.
BP, the Gulf’s leading offshore oil producer, reported the most accidents and blowouts.  They had 47 incidents since 2005. Chevron, the third largest offshore oil producer in the region, reported 46 incidents.  Shell, the second largest producer, reported 22 incidents in the five year period.

During the five year period, MMS officials investigated only about one-third of the reported incidents.  They collected only 16 fines.  BP and Chevron paid one fine each.  Shell paid no fines.
The law allows MMS to fine a company up to $35,000 dollars per day for safety violations; however experts say that it is rare for large companies to pay any fines.

Unfortunately, this cavalier attitude means that companies can cut corners and endanger workers in order to save money. The problem is that saving money this way risks lives.


What to Do About Employer Violations of OSHA Rules & Regulations

If an employee thinks there are certain conditions at work that are unsafe or unhealthful, the first thing to do is to report the situation to the employer. If the employer fails to take care of the issue, the worker has the right to file a complaint with OSHA.

A worker cannot be fired or mistreated simply because he or she has filed a complaint with OSHA, and the worker can ask OSHA to protect his or her identity from the employer.

The worker can file a complaint:

  • online;
  • by mail; or
  • by visiting the nearest OSHA office.

In Louisiana, the OSHA office is located at 9100 Bluebonnet Centre Blvd, Suite 201 in Baton Rouge.

Some of the information the employee will have to provide to OSHA includes:

  • a good description of the safety hazard;
  • what chemicals and equipment are used onsite;
  • details about how long the hazard has existed;
  • what attempts the employer has made to address the hazard; and
  • an estimate of the number of employees at the worksite.

Does the U.S. Coast Guard get involved with vessel safety violations?

Vessel safety is a major concern in the boating industry. Maritime workers, as well as their employers, need to be informed of safety rules under maritime law that must be followed while navigating a vessel on the open water.

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) may become involved if a vessel is in violation of safety regulations, though the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) may also have authority in some cases.

Coast Guard and OSHA Enforce Maritime & Vessel Safety Regulations

So who’s responsible for enforcing safety regulations aboard a particular vessel, the Coast Guard or OSHA? The Coast Guard’s maritime law enforcement pertains to cases involving inspected vessels, whereas OSHA may become involved in cases involving uninspected vessels. An inspected vessel is simply one that is subject to inspection by the Coast Guard.

For example, passenger vessels carrying six or fewer passengers may not be subject to inspection, while those carrying more than six passengers may be subject to inspection.

Besides passenger vehicles with more than six people onboard, other inspected vessels may include:

  • freight vessels;
  • barges; and
  • towing vessels.

OSHA, meanwhile, may apply to shipyard workers, longshore workers, and those working in a marine terminal.

Workers aboard inspected vessels may still contact OSHA, though the agency will refer the complaint to the Coast Guard. However, a Memorandum of Understanding between the OSHA and USCG establishes that while OSHA may not enforce the OSH Act on inspected vessels, it may handle cases of employer retaliation who exercise their rights as workers.

Reporting a Vessel Safety Violation to USCG

An employee may contact the closest Coast Guard facility to report a violation or suspected violation. For example, the employee may fill out a USCG Employee Hazard Report. This requires a description of the hazard, as well as in formation regarding the equipment or material in question that is posing the hazard. It even allows the employee to provide recommendations to correct the hazard.

The Coast Guard may then investigate the complaint and provide a report regarding whether evidence substantiates it. If so, a Notice of Violation may be sent to the employer informing it of the nature of the violation. The Coast Guard’s maritime law enforcement also involves instruction to correct the hazard. The Notice of Violation may also outline penalties due because of the hazard.

Of course, OSHA may be contacted if the case involves:

  • an uninspected vessel;
  • dock workers;
  • longshoremen; or
  • a marine terminal.

Further, workers on inspected vessels who wish to file a complaint regarding employer retaliation may contact OSHA.

How do I report a safety violation on a vessel or offshore platform?

f you have reason to believe that a safety violation may have caused your offshore injury, you should report the violation in order to get the problem fixed. Your first step should be to notify your employer. Sometimes that is all it takes, however, if your complaint falls on deaf ears, then you should notify the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). If you fear repercussions, speak with a maritime injury attorney in Louisiana.

Reporting Safety Violations to OSHA

You can report a violation to OSHA by mail, phone or online. It is important that you provide as much information as possible to the administration’s maritime division. An OSHA representative will then likely contact your employer to discuss the violation.

The information you provide should include the following: 

  • the name of your employer;
  • your employer’s contact information;
  • your name and number (If you prefer to remain anonymous, OSHA will abide by your request.);
  • your mailing address;
  • the number of employees at the worksite;
  • whether any equipment or chemicals are used at work;
  • a thorough description of the safety violation;
  • how long the condition has existed; and
  • whether any attempts were made to correct the problems.

If you are an injured offshore worker, and you believe that shortcuts and safety violations made by your employer contributed to your injury, you have rights.  Call The Young Firm at 866-715-3664 to learn more and request our free guide: Employee’s Guide to Maritime Injury Law.  This booklet explains your rights after an offshore accident and what you can do if your employer is violating your right to a safe workplace and to compensation after an injury.  If you have any questions, or believe you have a maritime injury case, contact our New Orleans maritime attorneys to schedule a free consultation.

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