Roads riskier for oil, gas workers
Take an industry where the workers are disproportionately young men, then have them work long hours, driving pickups on rural highways.
The result, according to a recent study, is that oil and gas workers are 8.5 times more likely to die in motor vehicle accidents on the job than people working in industries overall.
Only those in the transportation and warehousing industry were more likely to die in on-the-job vehicle accidents.
People who work for smaller oil and gas companies, and particularly those working for small well-service companies, are at especially high risk.
Researcher Kyla Retzer found that more than a third of the oil field workers killed in on-the-job traffic accidents between 2003 and 2009 were working in Texas, a reflection of the industry's strength here.
Because the study ended before the shale drilling boom really took off, Retzer suggested that the findings also have implications for other parts of the country.
"Texas had by far the largest number of rigs," said Retzer, lead author of the study and a program coordinator with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. "At the time the study was done, North Dakota didn't have many at all, but they are growing at a fast, fast pace. It is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed in North Dakota."
The study, published online by Accident Analysis & Prevention, was drawn from an analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Retzer said she and her co-authors found that 202 oil and gas extraction workers died in motor vehicle accidents while on the job from 2003 to 2009.
That included people working for operators, drilling contractors and well service companies, but not landmen, whose work includes securing drilling leases from property owners, or other categories of employees.
Motor vehicle accidents accounted for 28 percent of all work-related deaths among people in the energy industry during that period, making it the leading cause of on-the-job deaths, according to the study.
Industry groups referred questions about the study to the Texas Department of Transportation, saying it is developing a campaign to address driver safety.
Department spokeswoman Veronica Breyer said the campaign hasn't been launched yet but will address safety in parts of the state where oil and natural gas production is under way.
Some of Retzer's findings will come as no surprise to anyone who has spent time in the oil fields.
1 More than half of the fatalities involved pickups, for which drivers aren't required to have commercial driver's licenses.
"Many people are concerned about those larger vehicles," Retzer said, "but we also need to be thinking about the driver of the pickup."
1 Almost 56 percent of the fatal accidents involved only one vehicle. The study notes lengthy drives on rural roads, long work hours and driver fatigue as possible contributing factors.
1 Failure to wear seat belts was a major factor in the high death rates.
In about half the deaths, the drivers weren't wearing seat belts or were ejected from their vehicles, suggesting they weren't wearing seat belts.
Lap and shoulder belts can reduce the risk of fatal injury by 60 percent in light trucks, Retzer wrote.
Previous studies found that not wearing a seat belt is part of the culture in the oil field, she said.
Seat belt use is also lower in rural areas, where drilling is more common, according to the study.
"And this industry has a lot of young workers, and risk-taking may be more common among this age group," she noted.
1 Workers at companies with fewer than 20 employees were at highest risk, according to the study.
Retzer said small companies generally are less likely to have an employee dedicated to safety and training.
She recommended that government and industry organizations work together to make safety training programs and other tools available to small companies.