There are too many deaths in the oil and gas industry and companies need to correct that. This blog posting is not about whether there is a problem. It is about whether we are using the right tools to solve it. In fact, the question is whether the simplest improvement is staring us in the face.
OSHA has targeted oil and gas with a number of enforcement measures and now NIOSH, which is a part of the Centers for Disease Control, has launched a long-term study of oilfield fatalities and propose solutions. The ten-year project is outlined in a 30-plus page draft strategic plan and it involves four steps.
The numbers are striking. NIOSH says the oil and gas industry suffered 1,189 worker fatalities over a 10-year period. The fatality rate for the sector is 25 fatalities per 100,000 workers, compared with a rate of 3.5 for all U.S. occupations. NIOSH had to do some number crunching to determine industry-wide fatality figures because oil and gas includes so many different types of jobs, like drilling, production, construction and well servicing.
One thing that is striking about their analysis is the causes of death. The number one cause was found to be transportation-related incidents, especially motor vehicle crashes. Transportation made up about 40 percent of the total fatalities. The next highest category was contact injuries, which caused 26% of the fatalities.
This raises two questions, are we addressing the right safety problem in oil and gas and do we really need to take 10 years to solve it?
On the first question, the number one cause of death is transportation incidents, so why isn’t that our number one prevention focus? Fix the transportation-related risk and the industry fatality rate falls from 25 to 15. It is not an easy problem to fix, but it will never be fixed if we don’t address it. That means contractors need to implement vehicle safety training, enforce policies and recognize that the job includes driving to and from the job site. It also means that operators need to take an active interest in their contractor’s transportation planning.
As to the second question, (why should it take 10 years to come up with solutions?), one comment to the agency is kind of funny. NIOSH had asked for public comments on its plan. Take a look at what one person submitted. Doesn’t this sum up the way a lot of people feel about government studies?