Sunday, May 28, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Oil Services Company Sues OSHA

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (CN) - An oilfield services company sued OSHA for denying its request for a new rule that would make one of its products, or items like it, the industry standard for safety reasons.

Houston-based JTB Tools & Oilfield Services sued Uncle Sam and two top Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials on April 9 in Federal Court.

The lawsuit centers on the removal and reinstallation of the rotary head, a key piece of equipment on rotary drilling rigs, which work like an electrical drill. They use a drill bit and attached lengths of drill pipe to bore a hole from which oil and gas is extracted.

The rotary head is part of the apparatus that turns the drill pipe; roughnecks use chains to remove the head.

JTB Tools attorney Joe Stuckey said the chain method of removing the rotary head is a hazard for roughnecks, many of whom have lost fingers doing it.

"There's even been a guy that was wrapped up in his coat and stuff and it ended up killing him, throwing him off the platform," Stuckey told Courthouse News.

Oilfield work is dangerous and often deadly. From 2003 to 2010, 823 oil and gas extraction workers were killed on the job, a fatality rate seven times greater than the rate for all U.S. industries, according to OSHA statistics.

JTB Tools claims its Rotary Head Speed Clamp, which it rents out, is the "best available technology" to remove and replace the rotary head. It petitioned OSHA in August 2014 to adopt a new rule that establishes use of the clamp, and similar products, as the industry standard.

JTB estimates on its website that the clamp will net oil drilling companies a minimum monthly savings of $3,000, while making the workplace safer because only two workers are needed to operate it.

The 68-page lawsuit contains just one reference to JTB's speed clamp, on page 16, though it's clear the company has a monetary interest in OSHA mandating use of such products.

Stuckey says that's beside the point.

"You can't necessarily put a value on a human life or human finger or an arm or whatever," he said.

OSHA denied JTB's petition in November 2014 so the company filed a petition for reconsideration that the agency, part of the Department of Labor, denied in February.

JTB Tools claims OSHA violated the Administrative Procedure Act and its due process rights under the Fifth Amendment by denying the petition.

A Department of Labor spokeswoman did not reply to a request for comment.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.