It’s common knowledge that the oil and gas industry is dangerous and the death toll is higher than other industries, but the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows it hasn’t been improving.
In 2014, 4,679 people died on the job in the United States.1 Of those, 142, about 3 percent were oil and gas workers, which is startling because the industry employs less than one percent of all workers.
The numbers rose from 2013, when 112 oil and gas workers died. The fatality rate also increased since employment in the oil and gas industry increased in 2014; sadly, the number of deaths is rising faster than employment numbers.
The oil and gas industry remains far more dangerous than other industries—in 2014, seven times more dangerous.
2014 deadliest in years
According to numbers released in September by the Labor Department, the number of all workers whose deaths were tied to their jobs in the U.S. likely rose in 2014 to the highest number since 2008.2
The number of oil and gas industry workers who died in job-related accidents rose drastically, continuing a pattern that has troubled experts. The report by the department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics found in a preliminary study that 142 people last year died working in the oil fields, up from 112 in 2013, a rise of 27 percent. That preliminary number is the same as the number of oil and gas workers who died in 2012, which was the highest in at least two decades. The agency adds more fatalities when it revises its numbers each spring, often finding 100 to 200 additional deaths overall. If that’s the case, the number of oil and gas worker deaths could make last year the deadliest year going back at least as far as 1993 for that industry.
Industry professionals and safety experts said they noticed a troubling uptick in oil and gas deaths beginning last fall, around the time oil prices started to drop.
The preliminary estimates indicate an increase in all-industry fatal injuries last year, to 4,679, compared with 4,585 workplace deaths the year before.3 Including the expected revisions, the total number of deaths last year was likely higher than the approximately 4,700 deaths recorded in 2010 and 2011. It was the worst year for workplace fatalities since 2008, which had 5,214 deaths.
Colorado to launch oil and gas safety study
Due to the high fatality rates in the oil and gas industry, federal health officials in Colorado are set to begin a study of the hazards rooted in America’s largest oil patches.4 It will launch next year, and officials are hoping it will help cut the dangers faced by oil and gas workers.
Scientists from the Denver NIOSH office will distribute questionnaires to 500 oil field workers in North Dakota, Texas and another unnamed state. Oil field work is considered one of the most dangerous in the country. Between 2005 and 2009, the national occupational fatality rate for the oil and gas industry was, as mentioned, seven times higher than the general industry rate and two and a half times higher than the construction industry rate.
Workers will be asked about the types of injuries they’ve suffered while on the job, what they were doing when they were injured, the training they’ve had and whether oil companies provide bonuses to workers who don’t report an injury or incident over a certain length of time. NIOSH decided to take on this survey to gauge firsthand the dangers that oil and gas workers deal with daily.
NIOSH analyzed fatality numbers and knew that fatality rates were high among oil field workers. But NIOSH officials have not talked to workers directly in a systematic way about some of their safety-related behaviors and what their concerns are.
The oil industry, which is fully cooperating with the study, will allow NIOSH onto well sites for their survey.
Several initiatives between industry and government officials have cut the number of injuries on oil field sites, and working with regulators is a priority among oil companies, say industry officials.
NIOSH is especially interested in gathering information about driving hazards in the oil fields, since many deaths involving transportation.
Officials hope the survey, which should take about three years to complete, will lead to a safer place for oil field workers.