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Company Learns Expensive Lesson from Welding Safety Violations

Poor Welding Safety Practices Lead to Disaster

Even with advances in welding technology, attention to safety remains a serious issue. That became especially evident to Black Elk Energy, a Houston-based offshore oil producer that racked up 356 citations in just three years for violating OSHA safety regulations and endangering the lives of workers. The company’s risky practices culminated in a rig explosion that claimed the lives of three contractors. A month earlier, another safety oversight had injured six more workers.

Welder working with electrode  semiautomatic arc welding

A regulator for the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) stated that in terms of safety in offshore operations, Black Elk repeatedly failed to make sound decisions. The company’s contractors failed to remove dangerous hydrocarbons from pipes before welding commenced, and Black Elk failed to conduct a safety audit prior to the accident. When the contractors proceeded to weld the pipe, which led to a wet oil tank, the hydrocarbons ignited, causing the pipes to combust.

This case reflects repeated instances of failure to take workplace safety seriously. In the Black Elk case, neither the company nor its contractors practiced proper safety procedures, and neither stopped work even when they could smell the distinct odor of gas. Had each company put in place and routinely used proper welding safety procedures, this tragedy would likely have been averted. The resulting fines and lawsuits in this case demonstrate the serious consequences of safety failures that can follow companies and their affected workers and workers’ families for years.

Safety training such as OSHA 30 training essential to building a safety culture

The impact to Black Elk may be irreparable to the company. The blast resulted in tens of millions of dollars in costs and the company has had to sell off assets and has lost much of its top management.  Other firms should take such negligence and its consequences as a lesson and take action today to make sure that there is adequate attention to safety throughout their organizations.

In the oil drilling industry, or any industry involving dangerous tasks like welding, company leadership has an obligation to its workers and to itself to provide adequate training, safety-based processes and procedures, management oversight of the safety environment, and an overall culture of safety throughout the organization. Safety protocols, procedures and regular safety reminders must be used throughout the organization to avoid situations such as Black Elk’s.

A key part of any safety program, all welders and other line workers, as well as supervisors and managers, should complete formal OSHA safety training. Taking an OSHA safety training course is a small commitment each worker can make to master basic OSHA safety standards that may save a life, possibly their own. Our online OSHA 30 hour Construction training  and OSHA 30 hour General Industry training course includes welding safety training. Demonstrate your commitment to safety by completing adequate OSHA training for your job and help prevent accidents like Black Elk’s from happening in your workplace.

To test your welding safety knowledge now,  take our welding safety quiz.