When most people think of California, they imagine pristine beaches, Disneyland, and iconic cities like Los Angeles or San Diego. What they may not realize is that California is a top-10 oil-producing state. In 2019, the most recent year with a CA Energy Employment Report, California’s oil industry employed 406,751 workers. Working in an oilfield can be dangerous and challenging, and oilfield workers are regularly employed to hazards that are unheard of in other industries. This list explores some of the most common causes of oilfield accidents across California.

1. Slip & Fall Incidents

Slip and fall accidents are by no means limited to the oilfield industry, but they are one of the leading causes of injuries. Oil is a particularly slippery substance, no matter what surface it happens to be on. Whether oil is spilled on grass, dirt, or concrete, it can be a serious slipping hazard to unwary workers. In addition, employers may downplay the potential consequences of a slip and fall accident. After all, everyone has tripped and fallen at some point in their life, right? However, this mindset may cause someone to be seriously injured if they slip on an oil spill. Falls are capable of causing hip fractures, head trauma, or even death in some cases, according to WebMD.

2. Gas & Oil Truck Accidents

The CDC reports that “motor vehicle crashes cause over 40% of work-related deaths in the oil and gas extraction industry.” Safely moving oil from an oilfield is a multi-step process that typically involves multiple vehicles in proximity to the rigs. With vehicles coming and going, there is a risk to workers present in the oilfield. Additionally, drivers oftentimes work long hours and may be fatigued, which increases the risk of an accident on a highway or road. To reduce the chances of a crash, it’s essential that drivers get enough sleep, coordinate rest breaks carefully, and communicate where they will be and when.

3. Accidental Ignition

An oilfield consists of countless machines, most of which consist of hundreds of small parts. For the machines to function properly and safely, each machine’s components must be carefully maintained and monitored. Despite the best efforts of workers and supervisors to keep machines running at full capacity, old machine parts inevitably deteriorate due to use, weathering, and age. Wear and tear can increase the risk of accidental ignitions and explosions, which are incredibly dangerous. To prevent explosions and accidental ignitions most effectively, workers should:

  • Follow appropriate safety protocols and guidelines
  • Inform supervisors of irresponsible or dangerous machine use
  • Check equipment regularly for signs of deterioration

4. Non-Compliance With Shutdown Protocols

A number of emergencies can cause serious injuries on an oilfield. Toppled rigs, blowouts, and cable failures are some of the leading causes of injuries and delayed production. When a rig suffers damage or is defective, it is the employer’s responsibility to shut down operations until the problem can be fixed and work can be safely resumed. Failure to do so can lead to catastrophic failure. A seemingly minor issue such as a fatigue crack or damaged pipe can lead to devastating consequences if not promptly and safely fixed.

If you notice unsafe working conditions, you should immediately bring them to the attention of a supervisor. If a manager or supervisor makes the wrong call regarding stopping work due to dangerous conditions, put your safety first and refrain from working until the hazard is removed. It’s better to stay unharmed and risk a reprimand than put yourself in the path of a possible fire or explosion.

5. Falling Equipment

Oilfield workers should always wear helmets and protective gear when on the job. There is always the present danger of falling equipment, flying debris, and mechanical shrapnel. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the leading cause of nonfatal oilfield injuries is workers being struck by objects. Being hit with debris or falling objects can lead to serious injuries such as broken bones, fractures, or traumatic head injuries. On average, it takes roughly a month for an injured California oilfield worker to be able to return to work, which speaks to the severity of injuries suffered on the job.

Staying Safe at a California Oilfield

Whatever your role is, it’s important to always prioritize your safety and the well-being of your team. To best protect yourself, be sure to always wear proper gear and perform regular safety checks on all equipment that you use. Don’t operate unfamiliar equipment or do work that you do not feel adequately trained or equipped to handle. If you notice any unsafe working conditions or behavior, be sure to notify a supervisor as soon as possible. Staying safe on a drilling site requires everyone to work together, look out for one another, and follow established procedures.