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North Dakota’s high hazard industries get OSHA’s attention

Fatalities lead to enforcement program, extra investigators

OSHA's Oil and Gas Well Drilling eTool
OSHA's Oil and Gas Well Drilling eTool

A special enforcement emphasis program launched by OSHA this month will temporarily bring additional investigators from throughout the U.S. to North Dakota, in an effort to reduce the high fatality rates in the state's oil and gas and construction industries.

Since January 2012, 34 North Dakota workers in those industries have died because of work-related injuries. During that period, their deaths accounted for 87 percent of all North Dakota fatalities investigated by OSHA.

The agency hopes that increasing its field presence in the state will help bring those numbers down.

Workers looking for jobs, not injuries

"These industries are inherently dangerous, and workers are exposed to multiple hazards every day. Their safety must not be compromised because demand for production keeps increasing," said Eric Brooks, OSHA's area director in Bismarck. "Workers are coming to these growing industries to find jobs, not catastrophic injury and preventable death."

Of the 34 fatalities since 2012, 21 workers died while working on and servicing drilling rigs or conducting production support operations in the oil and gas industry. Workers are exposed daily to serious hazards, such as fires, explosions and equipment-related dangers. Additionally, 13 construction workers have died because of falls, struck-by hazards and trench cave-ins. Fall hazards in construction remain the leading cause of death in the industry, with hundreds of lives lost nationally each year.

Local emphasis program includes sampling

OSHA has had a local emphasis program for the oil and gas industry for the last three years, which outlines hazards and allows for increased enforcement. The enforcement program includes chemical sampling of fracking and tank gauging operations to test for atmospheric hazards, violations found in recent inspections. In addition, OSHA's Oil and Gas Well Drilling eTool identifies common hazards and possible solutions to reduce incidents that could lead to injuries or fatalities.

OSHA has also participated in outreach events with oil and gas employers, including a multistate stand-down with the Montana-North Dakota chapter of the National Service, Transmission, Exploration and Production Safety Network in which more than 160 employers and 1,000 workers voluntarily ceased operations for one day to discuss hazards and effective means to address them.

"Since we started the original emphasis program, we have seen improvement in North Dakota's oil fields, and the fatality rate has decreased. But no death is ever acceptable, and these industries are still hazardous for North Dakota's workers," Brooks said. "OSHA will continue to use its full enforcement authority — along with these new outreach efforts — to achieve the goal of every worker going home safely each day to their loved ones."

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