Roughneck’s serious injury: “It changes everything”

The Casper Star-Tribune’s Heather Richards profiles the struggle of Malco Bielefeld, 53, a roughneck who was seriously injured on the job.

“Once, he viewed the world from the top of a 70-foot oil derrick. …He would use his whole body to keep balance, attaching solid steel piping that weighed thousands of pounds. Now, he struggles to walk to the mailbox.”

Richards explains that Bielefeld, who worked for 13 years in oil and gas fields, suffered an injury in 2015.

“[He] was struck by blocks that fell from a workover rig in the Salt Creek Oil field. … The heavy pulley equipment crushed Bielefeld’s thin frame. He suffered fractures to his spine, both shoulder blades and his collarbone. His right arm was broken in two places.”

They physical pain sounds horrible, but Richards also characterizes the mental and financial toll on Bielefeld and other workers who suffer a disabling injury:

“It can also leave men accustomed to having control over their lives searching for their identity. They navigate hospital billing offices and rehab programs, enduring chronic pain while they clean house, waiting to see how far the disability check or the workman’s compensation will stretch that month.”

Richards' reporting on the experiences of Malco Bielefeld is especially timely. Her story comes just a couple of weeks after the Labor Department released the report "Does the Workers' Compensation System Fulfill its Obligation to Injured Workers?" The document notes substantial information gaps about the lives of injured workers, including:

  • The impact of the injury and compensation claim on other aspects of injured workers’
    lives, including the psycho-social effects.
  • The labor market experience of injured workers, including both subsequent work and
    earnings.
  • The success or failure of workers’ compensation on inequality and other
    social problems, including poverty, opioid abuse, homelessness and suicide.
  • The characteristics of workers with work-related disabilities who are applying for SSDI,
    and exploration of potential interventions that would assist them to remain in the labor
    market.

Malco Bielefeld's story puts a face on these issues.  He told the reporter that it is unlikely he will be able to return to his career in the oil and gas fields. If that happens, Bielefeld doesn’t know what he'll do. He said:

“I’ve been a laborer all my life, and I have no education. It’s all questions I have in my head, but no answers.”

I hope the Casper Star-Tribune's Heather Richards will continue to follow Malco Bielefeld's story.

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