Recent oil booms across the country are providing a significant boon to both the national and local economies. Reports by CNN and Forbes detail the rising productivity in both North Dakota and Texas respectively, two of the biggest hotspots for oil production, with both attracting thousands of workers looking for a path to prosperity. Oklahoma and Louisiana both see their fair share of energy-sector employees searching for work, as well.
Unfortunately, while the oil boom in these states has lowered overall unemployment and brought good fortune and financial windfalls to many, it has led to a significant amount of workplace deaths due to lack of safety standards, as well as a rapid surge in the local population placing a burden on road infrastructure. This rise in work-related deaths has led many to question the underlying cause.
What’s Causing Workplace Deaths in the Oil Sector?
To answer this question, some simply point to the large influx in regional population as a reason that more deaths are occurring. After all, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a 23 percent increase in oil and gas company workers between 2009 and 2012, according to a recent article in NPR.
According to the BLS statistics from 2012, though, the fatality rate for workers in oil and gas extraction hovered around 25.1 per 100,000 workers, making it more dangerous than farming, fishing, and forestry occupations, generally considered some of the most risky occupational fields.
Many of the workplace deaths may be a result of safety violations by the oil companies themselves, which could result in fines and other penalties instituted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Statistics from OSHA provide that “three out of five onsite fatalities in the oil and gas extraction industry are the result of struck-by/caught-in/caught-between hazards,” which often times could have been prevented if proper machine guarding was in place, or if other protections were available for the worker to keep them safe from harm. Lack of eye, face, and head protection are also cited as applicable safety standards related to the present hazards.
Another Common Killer: Truck Driving
Of course, while many deaths occur onsite, it is the ones that happen during travel that are starting to garner attention. The massive boom in the oil industry has brought with it the need to transport goods and materials, as well as workers, to and from the oil fields, leading to an increase in truck accidents that have devastating results. A report by the New York Times claims that over the past 10 years 300 oil and gas workers have died in highway crashes, which doesn’t even account for the numerous other non-workers that have perished as well. Safety organizations cite driver fatigue and distraction as a cause for many of these accidents, although some simply, again, point to the fact that more people on the road will inevitably lead to more accidents.
Compensation for Families of Energy Workers
The oil boom may be an economic savior for many families, but other families may have to endure a grave loss. The loved ones of those killed in the oil industry may seek compensation through workers’ compensation laws or civil lawsuits, but the real solution may remain in the hands of safety organizations to prevent deaths from occurring in the first place.