Workplace Safety in the Bakken Oil Fields

As an experienced roughneck said “it's not a question of if an accident or death will occur, but when”. He was referring to working in the Bakken oil fields. In fact, from 2000 to 2010, Wyoming experienced the highest workplace fatality rate of any other state with the oil gas industry responsible for many of the deaths.

In addition to the oil fields, the associated construction workplace fatalities are an ongoing concern accounting for 46 fatalities in 2012 and 34 in 2013 in the North Dakota Bakken. Oil field and construction fatalities include falls, burns, electrocution, blunt force trauma, hydrogen sulfide gas exposure, and cave-ins.

In the Bakken, non-fatal injuries from lack of training, neglect and overuse are frequent. For example, hand and upper extremity injuries such as carpal tunnel, trigger finger, joint problems and fractures are common problems. In 2013, there were 3200 oil field injuries reported in North Dakota, up from 700 in 2009.

In a special report on the dangers of the Bakken, news highlighted the impact of oil field injuries on workers and their families. In 2010, Gary Roberts was cleaning a pipe with a flammable solvent near a coworker heating the pipe with a propane torch. Unaware of the danger, the resulting fire quickly spread causing severe burns to his hands, legs, neck, vocal cords and face.

The paramedics who took him to the hospital thought his injuries were fatal and it was surprising for them to learn of his survival when lawsuit papers began arriving. Since the Bakken accident, Roberts has undergone a series of surgeries to repair the burn sites. In 2013, the court awarded Roberts a multi-million dollar settlement for his injuries citing a lack of proper training and safety equipment.

With the cost of his surgeries in the millions, Roberts is facing more operations to improve his breathing; his hands are severely damaged and he is permanently disabled. Roberts feels that his experience in the Bakken oil fields is preventable as long as workers and companies follow the rules and improve safety enforcement.

Workplace safety in the Bakken is a joint responsibility of companies and field workers and the costs of non-compliance are high. Please contact us for assistance if you have experienced workplace injury in the Bakken.