Last year, three workers died in a rig explosion while working on an offshore platform for Black Elk. Forbes reports that this Houston-based offshore oil producer, along with three of the producer’s contractors, received 41 citations for safety violations that existed prior to the deadly explosion. Black Elk now faces civil penalties as a result of the safety lapses, but the company has 60 days to appeal the citations and fines and penalties are likely to be negotiated downward.
Any offshore accident lawyer knows that the penalties for these citations that are issued for “incidents of non-compliance” are rarely enough to make a dent in the profits of the offshore drillers, nor are they enough to force the drilling companies to take safety more seriously in the future. As Forbes describes them, these civil penalties are nothing more than “nuisance fines” that “pile up like traffic tickets on the windshield of an abandoned car while lives continue to be lost.”
Fines Aren’t Sufficient to Make Workers Safe
The 41 citations issued to Black Elk following the explosion were not the first that the company had received. In the two years prior to the accident, the company had been cited 315 times for risky procedures and violations of safety rules. In fact, just one month before the explosion, another accident had occurred necessitating the hospitalization of six workers. The investigation of this prior accident had led regulations to state that the company had shown disregard for the safety of its workers.
Despite the clear problems, nothing was done to force Black Elk to actually improve offshore conditions. While fines can differ depending upon the extent of the violation, the average fine levied by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement is just $62,000 for offshore safety violations. Black Elk has faced higher fines than average, including a fine of $307,000 after a gas leak was left unfixed on one platform for more than 100 days. Black Elk also had three additional civil penalties this past year totaling more than $250,000. Forbes describes the size of these fines as “minimal.”
There are many reasons that the fines are too small and that safety is not improved. Some of the key problems include the fact that:
- Recidivism is not generally taken into account by federal regulators when identifying safety problems or issuing safety violations. The only real consequence of not having a “safety culture” is being told to become safer and paying some small fines.
- Operators can deny responsibility, complain about overly burdensome regulations and blame contractors for problems that develop or safety lapses.
- A company’s safety track record isn’t considered by regulators when deciding whether to allow drilling companies continued access to drill in the Gulf.
The outcome, unfortunately, is that employees continue to get hurt or killed in offshore accidents because the regulations don’t do enough to force drilling companies to make worker safety a priority.
If you or a loved one suffered a Gulf Coast maritime or offshore injury, contact the Law Offices of William Gee III at 1-800-488-5227 to speak to a Louisiana offshore accident lawyer.