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Worker deaths in oil and gas industry at all time high

Amy Mall

Posted December 2, 2013 in Health and the Environment

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According to a new report out from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, fatalities in the oil and gas industry are the highest they have been since the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics began keeping track in 1992. Some highlights from the article:

  • Although it's not the most deadly industry, the fatality rate in the oil and gas industry is between five and seven times higher than the overall private sector average.
  • Non-fatal injuries in the oil and gas industry are lower than average, meaning that if there is an injury it is more likely to be fatal.
  • Forty percent of oil and gas industry fatalities are the result of transportation accidents (about half of those workers were not wearing seat belts). As I've previously blogged, a loophole in highway safety rules allows truck drivers in the oil and gas industry to work longer hours than drivers in most other industries. According to an article in The New York Times, some drivers are pressured to drive more than 20 hours in one shift.
  • There has been an increase in injuries from falls from height, fires and explosions.

Many of these workplace incidents--like traffic accidents and explosions--also put nearby community residents at risk. In just one tragic collision, two young children were killed when a fracking truck demolished their car earlier this year in West Virginia. We need stronger rules to rein in the oil and gas industry, and the companies themselves need to make environmental protection and safety a top priority.

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Comments

Gerald QuindryDec 2 2013 04:19 PM

You didn't link to the article. Can you provide one?

While searching for it, I came across the following in that same paper, in an AP article dated August 26, 2013, by Kevin Begos:

"There's a strong case that people in the U.S. are already leading longer lives as a consequence of the fracking revolution," said Michael Greenstone, a professor of environmental economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That's because many power plants have stopped burning coal and switched to natural gas, which emits far less fine soot, nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide.

Amy MallDec 2 2013 04:33 PM

Dear Mr. Quindry: I will add the link; thank you for letting me know. Here it is:
http://www.post-gazette.com/business/2013/12/01/Oil-and-gas-fatalities-spike-with-boom

anonymous anonymousDec 3 2013 12:15 PM

"Non-fatal injuries in the oil and gas industry are lower than average, meaning that if there is an injury it is more likely to be fatal."

How is is logical to make that assumption? To me that just means there are fewer non-fatal injuries - workplace is safer on average?

Amy MallDec 3 2013 12:35 PM

Dear Anonymous: Thanks for the question. That was a quote in the article from a research toxicologist with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Sorry that wasn't more clear. I think his point is that, if you are injured while working in the oil and gas industry, it is more likely to be fatal than if you are injured while working in another industry.

John AlbrechtDec 3 2013 02:22 PM

Accidents, fatal or not, are unfortunate and we should all work to minimize them. In order to make progress along these lines, it is important to understand the relevant data and statistics. This blog article will not help you do that. Consider that the cited Post Gazette article also contains this quote: "But even with that spike, the oil and gas industry's rate of nonfatal injuries is still far below the average for all private industries and has been for years." This is amazing. An industry that involves people outside driving big trucks, working with other large moving equipment, high current and voltages, drilling rigs, explosive gases, and flammable liquids and has a rate of injuries lower than the average- an average which includes most of us sitting in our offices pushing paper and keys on keyboards. As an example of the misunderstanding possible, the original data used by the PPG article shows that the*rate* of fatalities (per worker or per worker-hour)- the usual and most relevant statistic used in understanding injuries or fatalities- is *lower* in the most recent year than many other recent years. The overall increase in fatalities is due to more workers in the field. This does not support a call for "stronger rules" to "rein in" the industry. Data matters, statistics matter, interpretation matters, and using bad interpretations and selective presentation to support preconceived notions is not responsible or useful journalism.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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