North Dakota Still Leads the Nation in Fatal Oil Field Accidents

With an a job fatality rate of 14.9 per 100,000, North Dakota tops the list with the highest fatality rate in the nation; a role it has held the last three years. Oil field accident fatalities in North Dakota Bakken mining and oil and gas fields totaled 84.7 per 100,000 while construction work fatalities had a rate of 44.1 per 100,000.

In relation to the rest of the nation, North Dakota's oil field fatality rate in 2013 was almost seven times the national rate of 12.4 per 100,000 and the construction fatality rate was over four times the national rate.

Latino and other immigrant workers have experienced significant fatalities. 11 of the 12 Latino workers who died working in the North Dakota Bakken oil fields in 2012 were immigrants.

While investigating the 44 fatalities in the Bakken and other gas and oil operations from October 2013 to December 31, 2014, OSHA found that fatal work injuries involved falls, shock, being caught in or between, inhalation and scald/burn injuries. The most common cause of death is traumatic injury from being struck by or against tools or equipment.

Inhalation of toxic chemical fumes near oil tanks causing fatal injury is an increasing problem in the Bakken oil fields. OSHA's inadequate PEL (permissible exposure limits) restrict their enforcement capability leaving workers under protected in some cases. Both OSHA and NIOSH have reported numerous worker fatalities associated with chemical toxicity. In 2014, OSHA published a guidance document with recommendations for reducing flowback risks in hydraulic fracturing.

In addition to silica dust exposure as a significant health hazard in the Bakken and other extraction processing areas, less-studied hazards include exposure to equipment emissions containing diesel particulate and other gases. Exposure to noise, temperature extremes, radioactive material and heavy metals are other potential safety and health hazards for workers in the Bakken.

Although, the oil and gas drilling industry falls under the mining industry classification and has similar fatality rates, it is subject to OSHA rather than the Mine Safety and Health Act. This results in weaker regulations and oversight than comparable extractive operations.

Bakken oil and gas drilling activity is subject to OSHA general industry and construction guidelines which fail to address the specific safety hazards of the industry. In some cases, such as the standards for benzene and process safety management, the gas and oil industry is exempt.

Unlike the Mine Safety and Health Act, OSHA does not require routine inspections in the gas and oil industry. Furthermore, work sites in the Bakken and other oil and gas extraction operations are often remote and mobile. As a result, OSHA only performed 663 oil and gas extraction inspections in 2014.

With the high reliance on gas and oil extraction as an energy source and the industry's propensity for work place injury, establishing enforceable regulations equal to others in the mining industry makes good sense.

Work injuries in the Bakken region occur often. Please contact us if your workplace injury places you and your family at risk.