Burns are a Serious Workplace Injury in the Bakken

Although other injuries occur more frequently, burn injuries among Bakken oil field workers in North Dakota have swelled to 3,100 in the last five years. Of all workplace injuries, burn injury is one of the most painful and most expensive; burn unit treatment can cost $1 million.

Bakken burn victims treated at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota often require ventilators and have burns three to four times larger than the average patient. Moving patients takes extra time yet critical care in the first day makes a big difference in patient's recovery. Even with the high flammability of Bakken crude and the higher potential for burn injury, North Dakota lacks specialized burn centers.

In January, an oil service company owner died and an employee suffered serious burn injury when fluids ignited during a repair of a well heater in the Bakken oil field of North Dakota.

Last November, an oil field worker burnt in a Bakken region in Montana settled with an oil drilling company claiming negligence from lack of propane gas odorization. The construction worker suffered burns over 68% of his body after lighting a cigar near an undetected propane leak.

Following guidelines set up by OSHA helps minimize burn injuries to Bakken oil field workers. For instance supervisors should communicate that gas leak detection is difficult with odorless and colorless gas.

Companies need to train workers on safe operating procedures for equipment used in Bakken oil drilling. In flow back operations, training with verification should cover the startup and shutdown process, normal operations and emergency procedures which include site alarms.

Workers should employ personal and fixed LEL monitors that undergo routine testing and maintenance. When workers face possible exposure to flash fire hazards, frequent in Bakken drilling operations, their employer must require them to wear company-furnished flame resistant attire. Workers should conduct welding and other heat or ignition-producing activities outside of flow back areas.

In the Bakken oil fields, flammable atmospheres are a common hazard especially during flow back operations. Discharges to tanks, tanker trucks, oil and gas separators, flares, pits and sand separators can contain high amounts of flammable gases or liquids. Cigarettes, static charges, engines, cell phones, radios and other devices can all cause ignition and require special handling.

Workplace injuries such as burns are more likely under hazardous conditions in the Bakken. Please contact us for help if you have suffered a work-related injury.