Fatal Offshore Explosion in the Gulf of Mexico

flag-and-gavelNo one ever wants to need an oil rig accident attorney, but when accidents and explosions impact oil rigs off our coast and workers are injured or killed, an oil rig accident lawyer is often the first person that an injured worker needs to call. Sadly, this is exactly what happened on November 20th when three workers were injured and one was killed during an oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

What We Know So Far

Details are still emerging about this incident, but CBS News has reported that damage was limited and, since the rig was not in production, there has been no pollution or oil spillage noted. This fact has been confirmed by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

The company that owns the rig, Fieldwood Energy, released a statement that the facility was undamaged and that the isolated incident had been contained. At the time of the explosion, the workers had been cleaning a piece of equipment responsible for separating the oil from water as well as other liquids. The equipment they were cleaning is called a Heater-Treater. This is the same piece of equipment that caught fire on an oil rig off the coast of Louisiana in 2011, forcing 13 rig workers to evacuate.

The worst part of this week’s explosion is knowing that it might have been prevented. Six months ago, regulators notified Fieldwood Energy that the equipment on the rig had not been maintained properly and was not in a safe condition. Whether the specific equipment noted to be unsafe was the same equipment that exploded this week is yet to be confirmed.

Just four years after the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, people all over the United States are understandably concerned when they hear about any incident involving an offshore rig. The Deepwater Horizon explosion was a massive tragedy, killing 11 workers and injuring 16. The explosion also created a giant oil spill with a reported 4.9 million barrels worth of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. Over the past four years this has resulted in pollution on the beaches of Gulf States like Louisiana, Alabama, Texas and Florida.

What Offshore Oil Rig Workers Need to Know

Working on an offshore oil rig is one of the most dangerous ways to earn a living. But oil rig workers have not been forsaken by legislators. They are protected under the Jones Act, federal legislation covering maritime workers who are sick or have accidents on the job. Because of this act, oil rig workers have the right to make a claim against their employer for damages after an incident such as this week’s explosion. They also have the right to a jury trial, which is a very important benefit and part of what separates the Jones act from traditional workers compensation rights.

Employers, like energy companies with offshore oil rigs, have an obligation to keep their employees safe. We have yet to discover whether neglected safety standards are to blame for this most recent explosion, but if so, the workers families deserve just compensation. All offshore oil rig workers should actively hold their employers responsible for maintaining safety standards including having working generators that can pump water and put out explosions early, keeping equipment maintained and repaired, and replacing older, worn equipment and parts. When an oil rig worker finds that their employer or management has been lax in any of these duties, they should contact one of the many Jones act attorneys who specialize in fighting for the rights of maritime workers. An offshore injury lawyer should also be consulted as soon as an event occurs, that causes injury or a fatality.

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NTSB Recommends Mandatory Sleep Disorder Screenings, Positive Train Control for U.S. Rail Industry

train-crossingAs the one-year anniversary of the Metro-North derailment in New York City approaches, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is calling for widespread sleep disorder screening for all railway engineers in the U.S. The December 1, 2013, derailment occurred near the Spuyten Duyvil station in the Bronx and has been attributed in part to driver inattention. The driver of the train has since been diagnosed with sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that can result in lapses of attention and extreme sleepiness for those suffering from the condition. If Rockefeller’s condition had been diagnosed and addressed prior to the crash, lives might have been saved. For those who lost loved ones or suffered injuries in this or other railway crashes or derailments, working with qualified FELA railroad injury accident lawyers can ensure a fair settlement for the losses sustained as a result of these accidents.

A Tragic Accident

The Metro-North derailment resulted in the deaths of four passengers and injuries to more than 60 others. The driver, William Rockefeller, failed to slow the train to the appropriate speed prior to reaching a curve approximately 100 yards from the Spuyten Duyvil station; the locomotive and all seven passenger cars derailed. Rockefeller reported feeling strangely dazed during the time in which he should have been reducing the speed of the train. During a post-accident medical examination, Rockefeller was diagnosed with sleep apnea, a condition that interferes with proper sleep and can reduce alertness among sufferers.

Testing for Sleep Disorders Must Be a Priority

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) currently recommends but does not require sleep disorder testing for engineers operating trains in the U.S. The NTSB, which does not directly regulate railroads, recommended mandatory sleep disorder testing for railroad engineers and other transportation workers more than 10 years ago. Although the FRA is currently working on updated guidelines for the railroad industry, the agency has not yet made a final decision regarding the enforcement of sleep disorder testing for engineers in the rail industry.

Positive Train Control

The NTSB’s final report on the Metro-North derailment also indicated that positive train control could have lessened the severity of the accident even given Rockefeller’s medical condition. Positive train control systems can automatically reduce speed when required and can identify potential collisions with other trains and take steps to avoid them. These systems could potentially save lives and prevent injuries; however, cost considerations and the failure of federal oversight agencies to mandate their use has hindered efforts to implement positive train control throughout the rail industry.

Endemic Failure to Protect Safety

The Metro-North derailment is far from an isolated incident. A number of railway accidents in recent years have resulted in loss of life, damage to property and serious questions regarding the industry’s commitment to worker, passenger and public safety. Oil tank trains have received significant scrutiny of late thanks to a number of high-profile accidents, including the Lac-Mégantic derailment that claimed the lives of at least 42 people and caused an explosion and firestorm that wiped out the downtown area of this small Canadian city. The failure of railroad companies to implement safety measures could result in even greater loss of life and damage to property in the future.

Train accident attorneys specialize in helping victims of railroad accidents to hold these companies accountable for their actions and failures to act on behalf of passenger and worker safety. By consulting with a railroad worker injury lawyer, families who have lost loved ones and those who have been injured through the negligence of railroad administrators or employees can often achieve a fair settlement for their losses or injuries. This can help to put added pressure on top management of railroad companies to implement the safety measures and employee screenings recommended by NTSB to help prevent accidents like the Metro-North derailment in the future.

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New Health and Safety Guidelines to Protect Maritime Seamen

Offshore-AccidentsWorkers on ships face unique challenges and risks that require special protections. To help standardize laws across nations, the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted numerous occupational safety and health (OSH) regulations known as the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC, 2006). This complex set of protections for seafarers went into effect in August of 2013. International experts met twice during the next year to craft additions to the MLC, 2006 as well as guidelines that could make it easier for maritime law firms to defend the rights of seafarers.

In the spring of 2014, over 300 representatives of governments, seafarers and ship owners unanimously approved amendments to the MLC, 2006 that had been in the works since the Convention’s initial adoption. These amendments provide financial compensation for long-term disability or deaths that occur due to occupational illness, injury or hazardous conditions at sea. They also protect abandoned seafarers when ship owners leave them far from home without pay or provisions.

In March of 2014, the ILO’s records listed 159 merchant ships that had been abandoned, including cases still unresolved after eight years. Some ship owners in financial difficulty may not be able to pay wages; others may determine that older ships are worth less than the amounts they owe workers. Whatever the reason, abandoned seafarers and their families are not to blame. The MLC, 2006 amendments require ships to have certificates or other papers verifying financial soundness and the ability to protect workers on board. Without such proof, ships may be held in port.

Provisions to protect seafarers are not new. In 1920, the United States passed the Merchant Marine Act requiring compensation for injuries that occur on a ship. It applies to anyone, from captain to crew, spending at least 30 percent of their time in active Merchant Marine service. Also called the Jones Act for its sponsor, Senator Wesley Jones, it provides medical care for injuries, a daily stipend for maintenance and death benefits for on-the-job events. Many seafarers still seek the help of a Jones Act lawyer to receive the compensation they deserve. Yet modern times require more.

As of April 2014, 57 of the ILO’s Member States had ratified the international standards set forth in the MLC, 2006. This represents over 80 percent of global merchant shipping tonnage. However, implementing the Convention has been a challenge. In October of 2014, another gathering of international experts, joined by advisers and observers from various governmental and non-governmental organizations, took place in Geneva. Its purpose was to create OSH guidelines and additional information relating to the unique work environments experienced at sea.

The guidelines address maritime conditions such as hazardous duties, long work hours, high stress levels, fatigue, tough physical work, isolation and organizational hierarchies that are typically inflexible. They also cover health concerns, including infectious disease, substance abuse, harassment and violence. The intent is for nations to incorporate these guidelines into their laws. As such, they include details addressing the responsibilities of seafarers, ship owners and governments to prevent illness and accidents, implement best practices, provide training, and develop dependable responses to accidents and emergencies.

Representatives for each of the main stakeholders expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the October meeting. Patrice Caron of the Seafarers’ International Union of Canada mentioned the challenges to implementation but said the guidelines should help. Tim Springett, the employers’ group vice-chairman, believed the guidelines would aid compliance with the MLC, 2006. Julie Carlton of the United Kingdom’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency noted the focus on safety and protection for maritime workers while still allowing some flexibility for governments developing OSH agendas.

As nations implement compliance structures and laws come further into being, maritime attorneys will continue their diligent efforts on behalf of seafarers and their families.

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Dangerous School Buses in Dayton Texas

auto-accidentIn the wake of the October 15, 2014, fatality accident in which a school bus struck a cyclist in Southeast Houston and fled the scene, many families are concerned about the safety of their children on the way to and from their schools. Recent reports of defective school buses in Dayton, Texas, have also increased public attention to mechanical and maintenance issues plaguing this common form of transportation for children. For those who have been injured or who have experienced tragic losses due to improperly maintained or operated school buses, making a call to a qualified Houston personal injury lawyer can be the first step toward stricter safety standards for local school districts.

Dayton’s Deteriorating Buses

An estimated 26 million students ride school buses on an average day in the United States. Maintaining the safety of these buses should be of paramount importance to school districts; however, a number of current and previous bus drivers in the Dayton area have complained about the condition of the buses they are asked to drive on a daily basis. Tires with nearly no tread left, rotting floors and other issues have been reported on buses that nonetheless were allowed to continue transporting local children to and from a school in Dayton. Overly worn tires could blow out suddenly to cause a sudden loss of control with potentially fatal results. Some bus drivers for the Dayton school district have indicated that they feel nothing will be done until a serious accident occurs.

A Pattern of Neglect

Lack of financial resources may be one factor in the failure of school districts to maintain their buses properly. Most automotive experts recommend replacing front bus tires every six years or sooner and rear tires at least every 10 years for optimal safety. New tires in sizes to fit these large vehicles can be expensive, however, especially for school districts experiencing reduced financial support at the federal and state level. Inexperienced and unqualified drivers can add to the risk posed by deteriorating equipment. Rather than prioritizing the maintenance and upkeep of school buses and on driver training, districts may focus on other activities they consider more critical to the education process. Unfortunately, this can lead to tragic results.

  • On November 11, 2014, a collision between a school bus and a car in Princeton, New Jersey, injured four people and resulted in serious damage to both vehicles.
  • A crash that injured numerous Bolton High School students on September 15, 2014, was attributed to driver error. Ten students and the driver were treated at a nearby hospital in Shelby County, Tennessee, after the school bus crossed the center line and struck another vehicle before crashing into a tree.

Not all school bus accidents are the result of faulty equipment or driver errors, however. The Kirbyville Independent School District bus crash on November 5, 2014, occurred when an 18-wheeler slammed into the bus from behind, injuring six of the 53 students on board. The driver of the 18-wheeler now faces charges for felony injury to a child.

Applying Financial Pressure

In some cases, the most effective way to change school district policies and priorities is to hold them financially responsible for the results of their failure to protect the children in their care. When accidents occur, retaining the services of a Houston auto accident lawyer can provide the help needed to hold the right parties responsible for any injuries sustained in these preventable events. Working with a Houston car accident lawyer can also ensure full payment for any medical expenses or missed parent worked time incurred as a result of injuries to a student.

For parents, teachers, bus drivers and school administrators, protecting the safety and well-being of children must be a top priority. Investing the necessary funds in school bus maintenance can potentially save lives and can ensure a brighter future for the youth of today.

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Training and Communication to Prevent Mining Accidents

personal injuryCoal mining is considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. There’s a constant risk of cave-ins, the chance of fire or explosion from a mixture of gases, and the threat of poor ventilation, which may lead to suffocation or breathing problems. Victims of mining accidents or their surviving family may wish to speak to a Houston industrial accident attorney about their options following an accident, but preventative safety measures from mining companies are the first step in keeping workers safe and avoiding costly litigation.

Even in the 21st century, much of the energy needs of the United States is supplied by coal, and Texas was the country’s fourth-largest coal producer as of 2011, according to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. While coal mines in Texas are not underground, the inherent risk of coal mining work hit home for several East Texas families in August when a silo caught on fire near Thermo, sending hot ash and embers onto workers. While no one was killed in the fire, six coal miners were hospitalized with second-degree burns.

The Thermo Mine was reportedly not active at the time of the accident, and crews were prepping the site for future mining. Because the mine was inactive, this accident is the perfect example of why mining companies should take every precaution in order to prevent dangerous situations at the worksite and why workers should have a consultation with a Houston personal injury attorney. A safe mining environment begins with education, training and vigilance.

Ensure Proper and Ongoing Training

The more educated a miner is on the hazards of the job and proper procedures, the more likely it is that accidents can be prevented. Miners should feel comfortable operating necessary equipment and hold proper licenses and certification. Before setting foot on the jobsite, new coal miners should go through intense training and simulations via virtual reality or machinery simulators. Training also allows a mining company to evaluate the preparedness levels of their employees and ensure they know what to do in the event of an emergency.

Mining companies should also require workers to undergo refresher training at least once per year, ensuring that workers have the most up-to-date safety information possible, which may reduce the risk of wrongful death or injury and the need to consult with Houston work injury lawyers. Technology is also quickly advancing in regards to miner safety equipment, and companies should update equipment as newer, safer devices become available.

Depending on the worksite conditions and the miner’s specific job, essential equipment may include emergency breathing devices and programmable, accurate electronic detonators. A single spark in the presence of methane or other type of gas build-up can cause an explosion, so head lamps and communication devices should be as modern as possible and well-maintained.

Install Safety Corridors

Creating safety corridors where miners can gather in the event of a hazardous situation may save lives in the event of an explosion or hazardous gas leak. These spaces should be stocked with enough food, air and water to last about three days in case of a cave-in or structural collapse and a lengthy rescue operation. A safety corridor is also an ideal space for workers to take breaks while on the job.

Stay Involved and Reinforce Safety Procedures

Even if a mining company has ensured its employees are fully trained and have the correct licenses for their job, monitoring mine safety is an ongoing process. Regular monitoring of the jobsite allows supervisors and employees to detect possible hazards and possibly prevent accidents. Communication is also key: Miners should feel comfortable discussing the state of their equipment and workplace conditions with their supervisors. Coal mining is a team environment, and by working together and ensuring proper training, workplace accidents may be prevented.

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