In the aftermath of a welder’s death on the job, an oilfield company pled guilty to a willful violation of federal safety standards requiring tanks to be cleaned before welding. The welder was 28 years old and had recently moved to North Dakota to work in the oil industry after serving in the Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan. He and his coworkers in Williston, North Dakota, repeatedly welded on tanker trailers that had previously carried liquid waste generated by oil wells. The tankers were empty but hadn’t been cleaned, and the residue contained flammable chemicals. On October 3, 2014, the employee began welding and this time the tank he was working on exploded, fatally injuring him. The company was criminally prosecuted and ultimately agreed to pay $1.6 million in restitution to the welder’s estate and to pay a fine of $500,000. For the next three years, the company must also allow the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to inspect its facilities at any time, without notice, and without specifying a reason for the inspection (C&J Well Services, Inc., DOJ press release, 8/28/19).
Tips: The company had all the right policies in place, but didn’t enforce them or provide appropriate training or supervision. According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), the company didn’t provide job-specific training to its welders, didn’t supervise their work effectively, didn’t require them to obtain hot work permits before welding, and didn’t follow the internal auditing procedures detailed in the company’s official policies. This case illustrates the tragic results that can occur when safety policies aren’t enforced by supervisors and management. A false sense of confidence can develop when employees ignore safe work practices without suffering injuries… until the unthinkable happens. If your workplace is running into challenges with getting everyone on board for safety compliance, contact your Vigilant safety professional for ideas and training suggestions.
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