Highway Accidents --The Leading Cause Of Death for Oil and Gas Workers
It likely comes as a surprise, but the leading causes of worker fatalities in oil and gas industry accidents involves the transportation aspect of the job—highway crashes and trucking accidents. This comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which found that in a five year stretch (2003-2008) a total of 648 field workers were killed. Of that total, a little less than half (over 300) were killed in transportation accidents. This is unique to the oil and gas world, because when all workplace deaths are taken into account, highway accidents only account for about a fifth of the fatalities.
Those familiar with the industry note that the total accidents are only expected to rise, because of the steady expansion of the industry in recent years. More than 200,000 new oil and gas wells are expected over the next decade. On top of that, most of those new wells (90%) will utilize hydraulic fracturing (better known as “fracing”). Fracing requires uses of millions of gallons of water. That water reaches the well via trucks—necessitating many more oil and gas workers on area roadways. Accidents of one kind or another will undoubtedly follow.
Why Are So Many Oil Field Truckers Killed in Highway Crashes?
Considering the seriousness of the problem, it is crucial to understand how these accidents arise. Many point to lax regulations on driver safety for the industry. For example, several exemptions exist regarding required rest times for industry drivers. Most commercial truck drivers are required to stop driving fourteen hours after the beginning of their workday. Not so for oil and gas drivers. That is because industry drivers are able to exclude time that they wait at wells while a crew is finishing work. Similarly, typical commercial drivers must take off 34 hours if working 60 hours in a single week. Oil and gas industry drivers are only required to take off 24 hours after the same amount of work.
Together, these special rules make it more likely that oil and gas industry drivers may suffer fatigue while behind the wheel, causing serious accidents.
The rules related to regular commercial drivers were enacted for very specific reasons, with an understanding of the risks of fatigue and the potential for serious harm. It is not inherently clear why the exemptions exist for the oil and gas industry, placing those workers at increased risk of harm. Lobbying efforts at the federal level have likely played a role.
Unfortunately, the industry does not have the best record when it comes to being open and honest about the safety risks. Steps are often taken to circumvent the rules and keep the truckers on the road even after repeated highway violations.
The safety of all travelers—including that of oil and gas workers—is at risk when reasonable care is not maintained in industry transportation. It is crucial to ensure proper rules are followed at all times and accountability is had when those rules are violated. After all, these trucks are not on the road alone. Innocent drivers are often among the victims of these accidents. Due to the sheer physics of these accidents, wrongful death of one or several of the drivers or passengers is often the result.