US oil and gas industry trailing mining in safety

August 23, 2013

According to preliminary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the United States oil and gas industry lost a record number of workers on the job in 2012. By comparison, final numbers for 2012 show that the mining industry had its safest year in terms of death and injury rates (ME, July 11 ).

Fatalities for the oil and gas industry jumped from 112 in 2011 to 138 in 2012, a 23 percent increase and the largest number of deaths of oil and gas workers since the current data series for the BLS Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries began in 2003. The bureau reported an oil and gas fatality rate of 24.2 deaths per 100,000 workers. That's higher than the 21.2 reported by the notoriously dangerous agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting sector. Oil and gas drilled more than 48,000 wells in 2012.

The United States mining industry had 36 fatalities in 2012 while operating more than 14,000 mines. The final numbers for 2012 show the lowest mining death and injury rates in the history of U.S. mining. The mining industry fatality rate in 2012 was 15.1 deaths per 100,000 workers. What’s more, 2013 is shaping up to be another good year. The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) reported that 18 U.S. miners have been killed on the job in 2013, that is one less than the same time frame in 2012 (ME, Aug. 1).

Through its Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Labor Department has initiated safety sweeps and stand-downs at drill sites. In February, OSHA partnered with the Montana-North Dakota chapter of the National Service, Transmission, Exploration and Production Safety Network to inspect wells in the Bakken Shale, North Dakota, the state at the center of the Bakken boom, had the highest fatality rate in the nation in 2011, according to Energy Wire.

Sixteen percent of all fatal injuries were incurred by contract workers, 54 percent of whom were working in construction and extraction jobs when they were killed, according to the BLS data.

Julia Bell, spokeswoman for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said the spike in oil and gas fatalities may be due to the industry's rapid growth. She cited a report published earlier this month by the U.S. Energy Information Administration that found energy jobs were growing faster than the entire U.S. private sector.

"When industries expand rapidly, there are, tragically, incidents that also occur," she said.

AFL-CIO Safety and Health Director Peg Seminario called for a deep examination of the oil and gas industry and its specific hazards and problems. She said there needs to be an investigation to find out whether certain employers and contractors are putting their workers in precarious situations.

While OSHA and its research partner, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, would be the obvious leaders of such a probe, Seminario said there might be a need for an industry-specific oversight body in the spirit of MSHA.

Under MSHA's watch, the mining sector has seen its fatality rate decrease from 19.8 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2010 to 15.1 in 2012, according to BLS numbers.



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