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Plant and Refinery Accidents

The petroleum industry involves much more than drilling operations and oil rigs. The oil and gas industry spans a wide range of endeavors, from exploring and scouting for new sources of oil or gas; to extraction of the fuel from its source; to refining the fuel and thereafter transporting of the refined products through pipelines, oil tankers, or tanker trucks.

Experts explain industry operations by categorizing it into three levels: (1) upstream, where companies are in the business of exploring and producing (“E&P”) oil and/or gas; (2) midstream, where profits are made from the transport of extracted oil and gas to refineries where it can be processed via ships, trucks, pipelines, and storage facilities; and (3) downstream, which are the refineries and processing plants themselves. These companies take the raw oil and gas and convert it to usable products for sale in the marketplace (i.e., gasoline, heating oil, etc.).

Image from WigRum files: Gallardo accident site

At each level of this industrial stream (upstream, midstream, or downstream) the risk of serious injury or death facing the Oil & Gas worker is high. Employees of petroleum companies understand they work in dangerous conditions, and that safety is a vital component of each day on the job.

Of course, in the Oil & Gas Industry, the most horrific accident involves the igniting of the fuel itself, resulting in a huge explosion and afterwards, an enormous fire. In these situations, like Pipeline Explosions or Blowouts and Oil Rig Explosions, there are usually a number of lives lost as well as significant serious bodily injuries alongside long-term environment harm. However, for those working in processing plants or refineries, the danger of a life-altering or deadly accident involves much more than the risk of a sudden explosion on the site.

Refineries and processing plants link the extracted raw fuel (e.g., crude oil or natural gas) with the various products that oil and gas companies can sell for profit. Refining oil is dangerous. It involves heating the crude oil in distillation chambers in order to separate its hydrocarbons. Once separated, these hydrocarbons can be refined into assorted petroleum industry products, such as diesel, gasoline, kerosene, and more. Natural gas processing involves a similar, dangerous process of separating raw natural gas into gas that can be sold (butane, propane, etc.).

Refineries, processing plants, and the “downstream” operations in the Oil and Gas Industry are exceptionally dangerous places to work. Even those behind a desk put their lives in jeopardy: there is no inherently safe place to be in a plant or refinery.

In fact, it is far more likely that an Oil and Gas Worker will be injured or killed in a plant or refinery accident where only that employee or a few co-workers are involved than in a massive explosion incident.

Risk of a Serious or Fatal Plant or Refinery Accident

According to the latest statistics (2017) released by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), workers in the petroleum industry perished in industrial accidents caused by the following, other than major explosions and fires:

  1. Vehicle incidents, include accidents both on-site and on a roadway (for more here, see Oilfield Traffic Collisions)
  2. Contact injuries where victim is struck by an object or caught between or crushed an object
  3. Exposures to harmful substances; environmental dangers, etc.
  4. Fall from height
  5. Cardiac event (possible work exposure)
  6. Electrocutions.

Types of Serious or Fatal Plant and Refinery Accidents

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) warns employers of the need to protect plant and refinery workers for specific, known worksite hazards that include the following, all of which are subject to federal safety regulations:

Vehicle Collisions

OSHA records show that highway vehicle crashes are the leading cause of oil and gas worker fatalities (40% of oil and gas worker deaths).

Struck-By/ Caught-In/ Caught-Between

According to OSHA, 60% of on-site fatalities in the oil and gas extraction industry are the result of struck-by/caught -in/caught-between hazards where workers are killed by struck-by/caught-in/caught-between hazards from multiple sources, including moving vehicles or equipment, falling equipment, and high-pressure lines.

Explosions and Fires

OSHA warns that workers in the petroleum industry face a danger of dying in either a fire or explosion caused by the ignition of flammable vapors or gases which can come from wells, trucks, production equipment or surface equipment such as tanks and shale shakers.


Fatal falls are a serious risk for plant and refinery workers, according to OSHA records, because these workers may have to access platforms and equipment located high above the ground.

Confined Spaces

In plants and refineries, a part of the job may demand that the worker go into confined spaces like storage tanks, underground collectors, sand storage containers, road tankers, or boilers. These are places with limited entry and exit, and with hazardous proximity to toxic vapors or gases. Dangers here include the risk of exposure to inhaling or burned by the ignition of flammable vapors or gases. Federal regulations require that plant and refinery confined spaces are to be tested prior to entry, and continuously monitored.

High Pressure Lines and Equipment

Plant and refinery workers must work around compressed gases and high-pressure lines. Unfortunately, the failure to inspect, maintain, and repair these lines so erosion does not result in either gas leaks or outright line bursts can result in serious injury or death to the nearby worker. Struck-by injuries are also possible in these situations.

Electrical and Other Hazardous Energy (electrocution)

In plants and refineries, workers use a variety of industry-specific tools and equipment that are powered with electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, or other form of dangerous energy source. Failures to inspect, maintain, and repair this type of equipment (as well as flaws in its design) can result in deadly consequences as the worker is fatally injured by burns or electrocution.

Machine Hazards

Workers in oil and gas plants and refineries employ all sorts of tools and machines as they perform their work, from hoist blocks, belt wheels, and conveyors, and more. If this plant or refinery equipment is not inspected, repaired, and maintained properly, the worker is at risk of a severe or fatal injury caused by being struck by a component of the machine or tool, or being caught between machine components.

Responsibility to Prevent and Protect Against Plant and Refinery Accidents

For anyone working in a plant or refinery, the job site is literally surrounded with life-threatening risks. A simple fall can kill someone, as can being hit by a falling object. Chemicals can cause severe or deadly injuries from inhalation as well as skin-contact. Hot liquids can cause fatal burns. Death or amputation can be the result of the failure of heavy machinery or equipment.

The bodily injuries suffered by a worker in an on-the-job accident in an Oil & Gas plant or refinery may be the result of one action (or failure to act), or a combination of causes. The company’s negligence in providing proper safety against known worksite hazards (as defined, for instance, by OSHA Regulations) is one reason people die on the job in a plant or refinery accident.

However, there may be other factors involved in the circumstances that led to the accident, such as the failure of management to properly supervise, the failure of co-workers to have proper safety training protocols, defective equipment or unrepaired tool failures, etc. all of which can play a part in the event and its resulting injury.


WigRum is proud to represent workers and their families as they fight for justice after a severe or deadly plant or refinery accident. These incidents must be thoroughly investigated to determine all those who share in the responsibility for what has happened, because more than one party may well have breached their legal duty of care and safety, resulting in the accident’s occurrence.

Our representations on behalf of Plant and Refinery Accident victims include the following:

Warehouse Fire Death Trap

On January 4, 2016, Julian Gallardo died while working in his office in a warehouse fire when chemicals stored in the warehouse caught flame. The warehouse was being used to store and transfer chemicals, and when the chemical fire began, Mr. Gallardo was literally in a death trap as he had no way of escaping once the fire began, since there was only one door to the office and it opened directly in front of the stored chemicals.

WigRum represented the Estate of Julian Gallardo, his widow and son as well as his bereaved parents, in an action against those responsible for his wrongful death. The suit was settled for a confidential sum.

For more details on Plant and Refinery Accidents, review summaries of our past cases, as well as details provided of past Verdicts and Settlements.

Regarding our representation of victims and their loved ones who have suffered as a result of wrongdoing by the Oil & Gas Industry, also see: