According to recent data released by the Energy & Environment News (E&E News), the oil and gas industry has “one of the highest rates of severe injuries in the country,” and by some measures, the highest. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) stated that the results were not surprising, and were consistent with the high fatality rate they’ve seen.
Severe injuries that occur range from the loss of a body part to major burns to broken bones caused by serious falls. Companies that fail to provide the proper safety equipment and training to their employees may be held liable for these types of injuries.
E&E News Reports Amputations and Fractures Common in the Oil & Gas Industry
The most common injury seen in the analysis was amputation—most frequently fingers and fingertips. The second most common injury was leg fracture. Other injuries included burns from fires and explosions, and struck-by injuries.
Prior to 2015, employers had to report to OSHA only incidents in which three or more individuals were hospitalized. Starting in 2015, employers had to report any incident that resulted in either a hospitalization or loss of a body part. Between the start of the new rule in 2015 and October 31, 2016, a total of 503 such injuries were reported. Many more likely occurred, as 21 states were not included since reports in those states go to a state agency.
CDC Notes that Fall Fatalities are On the Rise
Other organizations have reported similar injuries in the oil and gas industry. In April 2017, for example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that though most fatality rates for oil and gas extraction workers decreased between 2003 and 2013, those related to falls actually increased annually by two percent.
Among fatal falls, 52 percent of the workers fell from a height of over 30 feet, and 35 percent fell from a “derrick board,” an elevated work platform located in the structure used to support machinery on a drilling rig. The CDC added that “measures that target derrickman and workers engaged in assembling and disassembling drilling rigs could reduce falls in this industry.” They advised companies to annually update their fall protection plans and to be sure these plans are in place for workers at the highest risk for falls.
Rate of Serious Injuries Unacceptably High
Indeed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the rate of minor injuries in the oil & gas industry is better than the national average, but the rate of serious injuries and fatalities are unacceptably high. Between 2003 and 2009, the BLS recorded 716 fatalities—a rate seven times higher than for all U.S. industries.
The Industrial Safety & Hygiene News (ISHN) notes several problems in the industry that lead to injuries, including the following:
- Transient nature of employment may lead to apathetic commitments to safety
- “Macho” work image can lead to recklessness
- Isolation of some work areas may lead to substance abuse problems
- Outside contractors may lack safety expertise
They added that “emphasis on safety is only possible if senior leadership of oil and gas industry companies are committed to and actively involved in the safety culture.”
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