Inexperience, Lack of Inspections cited in N.D. Oil and Gas Fatality Rate

In 2013, 11 oil and gas workers in North Dakota died from a job-related injury, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Texas had 50 reported oil and gas worker fatalities in 2013, the most of any state. But Texas has roughly ten times more oil and gas workers than North Dakota.

Nationwide, 112 oil and gas workers died in 2013, down from 142 the year before.

The oil and gas industry, amid safety improvements, is still six times more dangerous than the average American job. And, as Inside Energy reported in our Dark Side Of The Boom series, oil and gas worker safety varies widely state by state. An oil and gas worker in North Dakota is three times more likely to die on the job than an oil and gas worker in Texas.

During 2011-2012, 23 oil and gas workers died in North Dakota, making it the nation’s most dangerous state for the industry with a worker fatality rate of 75 per 100,000. That’s about three times the national average.

There were six oil and gas industry deaths in Colorado and three in Wyoming during the same period. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics didn’t report any fatalities in either of the two for 2013.

But this does not mean no oil and gas workers died in these states. Each year, roughly 20 oil and gas worker fatalities that are included in the national statistics are not reported at the state level due to confidentiality issues.

In Colorado, for example, the BLS reported that four people died working in what they classified as “mining support” in 2013. But it was not stipulated whether or not they worked in oil and gas, or in some other kind of mining.

Experts sited less experienced workers and a lack of safety inspections as two reasons for  the high rate of worker fatalities in the North Dakota boom.

“The experience level of our entry-level employee is significantly lower than the individuals or companies I visit with in Texas or Colorado,” said Scott Rogers, an industrial hygienist and occupational safety consultant from Bozeman, Montana who works with oil companies in the Bakken shale formation. Rogers said the problem extends to workplace safety professionals, too.

Dennis Schmitz is the head of MonDaks Safety Network, an all-volunteer organization founded in Texas in 2003 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)  and members of the oil and gas industry to address injuries and deaths among workers.

He said another part of the problem is that most oil and gas companies are unlikely to ever have a safety inspection in North Dakota – even though the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has hired more inspectors recently and created specific programs that target the oil industry.

“You probably almost have better odds of winning the lottery than getting a visit from a regulatory agency,” he said.


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