An operator and two servicing companies’ failure to control a North Dakota oil well properly led to a flash fire that killed a 52-year-old worker and burned three other workers severely at a Watford City well site, federal investigators have found.

On Dec. 15, 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued serious safety violations to the well’s operator and the two servicing companies following its investigation of the June 18, 2016, fire and injuries.

“Employers who are directly involved in well servicing operations must coordinate their actions to ensure well control is maintained at all times. Failing to do so can result in catastrophic consequences such as this case where one man lost his life and three others suffered debilitating burns,” said OSHA’s Eric Brooks, “Communication between the host employer and all contractors is critical in working safely at any site.”

Agency investigators determined that while trouble shooting a problem with the drill string, the employers on site failed to maintain well control resulting in a release of hydrocarbons causing an explosion and subsequent flash fire.

A 52-year-old employee suffered fatal fall injuries and burns. Two other company employees also suffered burn injuries. OSHA cited for two serious violations for failing to:

• Maintain well control exposing workers to fire and explosion hazards.

• Provide flame retardant clothing to employees exposed to flash fire hazards.

OSHA has proposed penalties of $24,942. View current citations here.

The third injured worker - who was also burned - was employed by a third company. He was operating a service rig and tripping pipe out of the well during a snubbing operation when the incident occurred. OSHA cited one serious violation and proposed penalties of $12,471 to that company for failing to maintain well control.

OSHA also cited the well operator for one serious safety violation carrying proposed penalties of $12,471, for failing to maintain well control