In West Virginia and other states, driver fatigue has come under scrutiny, as several oil and gas workers have died due to falling asleep at the wheel. The latest victim was Timothy Roth, who was killed after the driver of his vehicle fell asleep, veered off of the highway, and hit a sign. Both Roth and the driver were gas company employees headed back to their West Virginia drilling service company’s shop after working a 17-hour day.
Roth was nearly killed in a similar incident two months ago, after another co-worker driver fell asleep and ran the company vehicle into a pole. Roth’s employer, Colorado-based Energy Services, had been fined in other states for permitting workers to drive after working beyond the maximum 14-hour day. Yet cases such as Roth’s are, if not common, sadly not unusual. Over the past decade, 300 oil and gas workers have been killed in roadway crashes due to fatigue from long shifts. Unlike other industries, the oil and gas industry has an exemption from highway safety rules. Yet while the exemption might have helped the industry earn more money, it has put workers’ lives at risk. What is more, the threat is only likely to grow, given the number of new hydraulic fracturing wells that are being drilled across the country, which require more trucks to be driven.
Federal regulators have been following the level of fatalities since 2005. The federal Centers for Disease Control Prevention has called for greater worker safety measures. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration noted that unlike mining companies, oil and gas companies are not required to report whenever a worker suffers a highway accident.
Some experts claim that some of the factors contributing to the problem include drug use at the work site and use of non-union labor, which gives workers fewer options to voice safety complaints. Another factor is that many trucks are old and poorly maintained. Finally, many truck drivers operate as “chameleon carriers,” driving under the name of a shell company so that their actual companies can skirt federal safety rules.
Oil and gas companies have repeatedly tried to avoid scrutiny in other ways. Roth’s coworkers claim, for instance, that Energy Services made them falsify their logbooks to make it seem as though they took rest breaks, when they in fact were still working.
It is a dangerous situation, and we at the Wolfe Law Firm hope that the federal government cracks down, and that Congress finally revokes the exemptions. Until that time, if your loved one was an oil and gas worker killed in a highway accident after a long shift, you can hire a West Virginia traffic accident attorney and file a wrongful death lawsuit against the company. While the company might try to claim that its actions fell within the boundaries of the law, you could point out that federal regulators had long ago concluded that the law needed to be updated. If this company falsified records, you could obtain witnesses to testify to this fact, which would make the company’s actions not just negligent, but reckless. With an experienced attorney on your side, you may be able to gain a little justice for your loved one.