Tragedy Spurs Sister’s Fight to Protect Oil and Gas Workers
Charlotte Bevins Honored with Advocate for Justice Award
Charleston, W.Va. – It’s the call no one ever wants to receive: a family member has died in an accident. It is a call that is even more heartbreaking when you learn that the death was preventable and should never have happened. Charlotte Bevins is still shaken by the death of her brother, C. J., in a natural gas drilling accident May 1, 2011—and she’s determined that no other families suffer a similar tragedy.
“We need to raise awareness about what is going on in the natural gas industry. They are cutting corners and putting the workers in danger, and no one is holding them accountable. It’s been going on too long. It took losing my brother to get me involved. I am going to reach out and let people know what’s going on and how serious it is. Fighting to make sure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else helps me keep him alive in my heart. I want to make a difference,” said Bevins.
In recognition of her efforts, Bevins will receive the 2013 Advocate for Justice Award from the West Virginia Association for Justice. The award is presented annually to a plaintiff whose individual case results may benefit the safety of other consumers, workers or small businesses. The award will be presented to Bevins at the WVAJ annual convention in Charleston on Thursday, June 6.
C. J. Bevins was a 23-year-old “roughneck,” a driller for the oil and natural gas industry. He worked for Braden Drilling, a West Virginia drilling company in Buckhannon. Norse Energy Corporation hired Braden to do drilling at sites in New York. The crew Bevins was on was sent to Smyrna, New York in late 2010, but cold weather forced the crew to stop installing the rigs because the ground was unstable. The crew was called back to New York as soon as the freeze hold was lifted at the end of April 2011.
After the 10-hour drive back to New York, C. J. and his co-workers had just 30 minutes to rest before a 12-hour shift. The following day, just a few hours into his shift, C. J. asked a co-worker to use a forklift to move a set of steel stairs to be attached to a trailer on the site. The unstable ground gave away, and the forklift’s rear sank. The front of the lift rose, crushing C. J. between the stairs and the trailer. All the organs below his diaphragm were crushed. He died a couple hours later.
In its investigation, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that the forklift operator was not properly trained—but the safety violations went beyond that. As Charlotte Bevins struggled with the loss of her brother, she began speaking with his friends and co-workers. The Bevins’ family also filed a lawsuit to recover damages for the loss of C. J. and to support his family, including an unborn son. Charlotte learned that the crew’s supervisor quit because of safety concerns at the worksite. When he took those concerns to management, he was told not to complain and just get the job done. The supervisor had also asked for 60 rig mats, special pallets to help stabilize the work site. Each cost $300 per day to rent. The company refused and told the crew to make do with just 30—only half of what was needed. The situation was worsened because the ground itself was still unstable from the winter freeze.
At an anti-fracking rally in Albany, New York, Charlotte was introduced to New York State Senator Tony Avello. With Senator Avella’s leadership, the New York State Senate introduced C. J,’s Law, the Oil and Gas Drilling Workplace Safety Act (S.3466). The legislation requires work sites to follow standard safety procedures, hire trained workers and report worksite accidents. It also requires the Commissioner of the New York Department of Labor to publish quarterly reports on workplace accidents.
Similar legislation is being written for West Virginia.
“So much of our country’s infrastructure is built on oil and gas. For something this important to America, the workers who extract these resources should be treated better. These companies should not be allowed to put their profits first and get their workers killed. These workers deserve safe worksites, and companies who don’t do it need to be held accountable,” Bevins said.
“Charlotte Bevins has impressed everyone who has met her. She is only 26-years-old, but she knows no fear when asking hard questions of co-workers, the defendants and ultimately legislators in seeking more stringent training laws for gas well workers,” said Timothy C. Bailey, whose West Virginia firm help represent the Bevins family. “Charlotte has been tireless in her effort to ensure that no other families suffer the loss that her family has. She has brought national attention to the issue of work site safety and opened the eyes of many to the dangers workers face in the natural gas industry. Her relentless determination will save lives.”
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