The Potential For Work Injury In The Bakken

In the Bakken oil and gas well sites, the potential for work injury is always present because of inherent dangerous hazards. These hazards include vehicular traffic, silica dust, fire and explosion and hydrogen sulfide exposure.

Fracking in the Bakken requires huge volumes of water, silica sand and chemical additives usually conveyed by trucks travelling over rural or underdeveloped roads. Drivers, exempt from Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations limiting consecutive hours of driving and paid by the load, put in 12-14 hour shifts. As a result, fatigue as well as low seat belt use predispose drivers to accidents. This is why oil and gas workers have a higher chance for a work-related fatal vehicle injury than most industries.

Companies can improve vehicle safety by encouraging drivers to wear seat belts and avoid texting and other distractions while driving. Some pay drivers hourly instead of by load to keep sleepy drivers off the road.

Since fracking requires large amounts of silica sand, Bakken oil and gas workers breathing silica dust at drilling sites risk developing lung cancer, silicosis, obstructive pulmonary disease and tuberculosis. This risk extends to other family members when the worker brings home dust on his clothes. Although silicosis may not show symptoms for 10 to 15 years, it is irreversible once developed.

Volatile hydrocarbons exposed to oxygen rich air can cause flash fires and explosions. In the last stage of completing a well, targeted explosions create fissures in the shale to extract gas setting up a potential ignition source. Hydrocarbons under high-pressure in shale formations can flow or kick through the rig platform into the wellbore causing blowout.

In addition, just by working with extremely flammable vapors near wells Bakken oil and gas workers risk explosions and fire from cigarettes, welding tools, frictional heat and open flames.

Another big hazard for Bakken workers is chemical exposure to hydrogen sulfide, a byproduct of hydrocarbon combustion in drilling, flaring and natural gas production. From 2001-2010, there were 60 worker deaths due to hydrogen gas exposure in the oil and gas industry.

Bakken workers become exposed when hydrogen gas which is heavier than air settles and accumulates. Although the gas has a rotten egg smell, workers can get desensitized in high concentrations.

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