Oklahoma Oil Field Injuries, Part III: Dealing With Negligence

Noble McIntyre on October 15, 2013

As we’ve discussed in Part I and Part II of our three-part blog series on oil field injuries, many of the injuries that happen in Oklahoma oil fields and in the energy industry are preventable, and often are caused by the employer’s negligence. Negligence can take many forms when it comes to oil field accidents: It can be that a company doesn’t follow regulations with regard to how many hours an employee can work at a time, failure to ensure that equipment is properly maintained, and improper or inadequate employee training, along with a host of other things.

Often, the people who are most aware of a company’s shortcomings on safety precautions in the field are the workers, themselves. If you’re an oil field worker and you see practices taking place that are dangerous to you or your coworkers, what do you do? A whistleblower is someone who exposes misconduct, dishonest or illegal activity that occurs within an organization. Although the term “whistleblower” might evoke some negative associations (think Enron and Edward Snowden), it can save lives, and there are protections in place for employees who need to bring forth allegations of unsafe practices of employers.

If you see something taking place on your oil field work site that you believe to be dangerous, consider whether you feel comfortable approaching a supervisor to report it. Certainly, for most companies, workers’ safety is the utmost priority – aside from being a caring employer, most company executives are keenly aware that no one wants the bad press that a workplace accident can bring. If it’s something that you can correct yourself, by all means, do so.

However, if your supervisor is causing the dangerous situation, it might not be practical to approach that person with your comments. There are other avenues you can take, however. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has a Whistleblower Protection Program that is designed to protect from discrimination in the event that a worker needs to expose workplace health or safety hazards. This means that an employer is not allowed to fire; lay off; demote; deny overtime, promotion or benefits; discipline; intimidate; threaten; or reduce pay or hours as a result of the employee’s exercising his rights under OSHA.

whistleblower by ElectronicFrontierFoundation, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  ElectronicFrontierFoundation

These rights include filing an OSHA complaint, talking with an inspector, seeking access to company exposure and injury records or raising a safety or health complaint. However, just like oil field injuries are not something to be taken lightly, neither is the process of filing a complaint. Again, if you can report any negligence or unsafe oil field practices directly to your supervisor or employer, that’s your best recourse. If not, though, here are a few tips for protecting yourself if you choose to be a whistleblower:

    • Before you engage in any whistleblowing, consult an attorney. Laws vary state by state. Oklahoma has a different set of laws than do the other states. Make sure that you fully understand your rights and obligations before you commence your claim.
    • Don’t share your plans to blow the whistle on your company, even with your closest and most trusted colleagues. Remember that any protection that you might have only kicks in once you’ve properly filed a claim; if it leaks back to management that you’re even considering a whistleblower claim, the results won’t be good.
    • Remember that you have no expectation of privacy on any company-owned devices like computers, mobile phones and the like. Anything you email and any conversations you have about your workplace and your employer’s activities are fair game, and you run the risk of management’s learning about your plans to expose its practices. Be sure that any correspondence is from personal devices used from your home or off the work-site (and off the company’s wifi).
    • Be credible. If you’re reporting ongoing violations, maintain a detailed log of infractions that include as many details as possible like times, dates and involved people’s names.
    • Stick to the facts. Don’t report on anything that you didn’t personally observe.

Again, whistleblowing can be risky business, but you are entitled to a safe workplace that is free of avoidable occupational hazards. Certainly, accidents do happen, especially in the Oklahoma oil field industry, but you may be within your rights to try to prevent them.

Noble McIntyre

Noble McIntyre is the senior partner and owner of McIntyre Law who focuses primarily on drug litigation and catastrophic injury cases. He is currently representing clients injured by the drugs Paxil, Levaquin and testosterone therapy drugs and by clients affected by oil field injuries. His goal has and continues to be to work diligently on behalf of his clients to achieve the highest and best result for his clients’ injuries while maintaining professionalism and abiding by all ethical standards of his profession. Read more about Noble McIntyre.

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