Silicosis Related Illness from Bakken Operations Qualifies for Work Comp

According to some reports, it is not uncommon for companies operating In the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota to compensate injured workers rather than file a work comp claim. Despite this evasion, oil and gas related worker work comp filings have significantly increased since 2007.

Among the dangers Bakken field workers face is the lung disease, silicosis. Since a fracking operation requires 1 to 4 million pounds of finely granulated sand as a proppant, considerable amount of silica dust gets into the air and blows about in the wind.

Crews conducting hydraulic fracking operations in the Bakken oil and gas fields are routinely exposed to the dust that ends up deep in their lungs when they inhale. Typically, Bakken workers move the sand in dry-bulk trucks and employ transfer belts to put it into hoppers. Trucks and trains transporting the sand also generate significant airborne silica dust.

In 2013, NIOSH scientists carried out the first and only study of gas and oil worker exposure to silica from hydraulic frackingoperations. Sampling from 11 sites in 5 states including North Dakota took place on 3 consecutive days. The samples captured respirable silica occurring during a 12-hour job shift for 15 sand-associated work functions.

The study found several jobs that routinely exceeded standard exposure limits, sometimes 10-20 times in excess. Despite workers having appropriate respirator equipment, there was not adequate protection because the measured amount exceeded the effective limit of the mask. The results showed that transfer belt workers and sand movers had exposure 55 times higher than the NIOSH recommended limit.

Silica exposure in oil and gas fields such as the Bakken has limited history, lacks monitoring and has not been a priority for companies. Although this was a small study, it brings attention to how little is known about effectiveness of controls such as hazard warnings, training, engineering and personal protection gear in oil field operations. There are no silica associated disease reports currently available for the Bakken region.

Silicosis is a significant health hazard in the Bakken oil fields associated with other diseases such as lung cancer, COPD, TB and kidney and autoimmune disease. As a result of the study, NIOSH and OSHA have issued a Hazard Alert which recommends monitoring and exposure reduction.

If you think you have a silica related illness from Bakken oil and gas operations please contact us.