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OSHA fines company $7,000 for oilfield death

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined a Montana company $7,000 after a worker died from injuries sustained while working for a seismograph crew near Beach.

On March 5, about three miles north of Beach, Christopher Whalen, 22, of Havre, Mont., was performing seismographic drilling operations for Erickson Contract Surveying, Inc. when he was fatally injured after a 250-pound steel pipe fell on his head.

As a driller and his assistant were pulling pipe out of a hole on a rig, the 20-foot section of pipe was placed on the "beaver slide" and the fast plug failed or the pipe released, causing the steel pipe to strike Whalen in the head, according to OSHA documents.

On May 5, OSHA issued two citations. The first, for $3,500, cites Erickson Contract as not providing a place of employment free from recognized hazards likely to cause serious harm or death.

The second $3,500 citation was due to a lack of ensuring each affected employee wore a protective helmet when working in a potentially dangerous area, according to OSHA documents.

"My understanding is that he didn't have some sort of protective headwear ... which might have prevented it," Deutscher said.

Erickson Contract has 15 working days to contest the citations.

"My main concern is what have they done to correct this issue?" said Tom Deutscher, OSHA area director, adding a follow-up will be conducted.

However, safety regulations in the oilfield can be convoluted, Deutscher said.

"It's not that they've been unregulated, it's just that they don't have a specific regulation for that industry and look how much it's changed in the years," Deutscher said.

A call to Shandon Erickson of Erickson Surveying went unreturned.

A call to Whalen's mother, Florence Wilson of Havre, Mont., went unanswered.

A number for Whalen's father, Gary Whalen of Canada, could not be located.