North Dakota’s oilfields have the notorious distinction of being the most dangerous for oil and gas workers. Recently, Governor Jack Dalrymple announced plans to get the state’s top safety officials to determine ways to improve the oilfields and look into the numerous fatalities that have plagued the industry.
Williston is the heart of the industry where streets are lined with trucks and semi-trucks hauling water and pickup trucks ferrying workers, often at high speeds. Hey, there is money and progress to be made! According to Williston accident attorneys, this is one of the major causes of accidents involving both oilfield workers and the city’s residents as well.
Most of the city’s residents are workers.
Alarming statistics of oil and gas fatalities
According to a report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, as much as 50 percent of oil and gas workers who have succumbed to injuries in vehicle accidents were not wearing seat belts. In some cases, workers tend to ignore safety rules, which is dangerous considering the risky environment and pressures they work under. 2011-2012 statistics of oil and gas fatalities state wise show North Dakota at the top of the list with 75 deaths per 100,000 workers. These figures are alarming since they are three times the national fatality rate of 27 deaths per 100,000 workers.
In a state where the Taco Bell employees are paid $17 an hour and the unemployment rate is almost 0%, there is some sad news.
The blame game between oil companies and contractors
Several safety experts and Williston accident attorneys believe that inexperience was a major contributor to the state’s abnormally high fatality rate. Some believe that the level of experience of lower rung employees was lower than that of individuals in other states like Colorado and Texas. Workplace safety professionals are also said to be a part of the problem.
Despite OSHA hiring an increasing number of inspectors and the launch of specific programs for the oil industry, oil companies are reportedly not likely to have a high frequency of safety inspections from the regulatory agency in North Dakota. Also part of the problem is the fact that oil companies contract risky oil jobs to smaller companies and are not directly responsible for safety at the workplace.
Are worker safety programs effective?
The bigger oil companies expect their contractors to follow all the OSHA standards but do not claim any responsibility for safety and training for the contractor’s employees. Currently, North Dakota conducts several worker safety programs which Governor Dalrymple feels is a better approach to workforce safety than merely stricter enforcement of OSHA’s regulatory standards.
According to the governor, the programs are being successfully implemented although he has asked the heads of other agencies including the Departments of Transport, Health, Insurance, Workforce Safety, and Highway Patrol to make a comprehensive study of the growing incidences of worker fatality at North Dakota’s oilfields.
Governor Dalrymple believes it is a step in the right direction and intends to ask his cabinet members for regular reports on what measures were being taken to reduce fatalities in the workforce. Last week, North Dakota regulators set new rules that mandate that oil companies who disburse millions of gallons of crude per week by rail reduce the volatility of the oil before they are loaded.
Safety matters too
Several oil industry experts have criticized the rule, warning that it could result in increased costs and a slowdown in production. Oil trains carrying crude from North Dakota to other parts of the US and Canada have been involved in at least 10 major accidents over the last two years. This is just another reason to enact the Keystone pipeline.