Published on May 21, 2012 by Edgar Snyder

Truck Accidents Pose a Big Threat to Oil and Natural Gas Workers

oil and natural gas highway crashes

People who work at oil and natural gas wells typically log long hours under exhausting, and sometimes dangerous, conditions. They work with heavy tools, complex equipment, and chemicals that can cause serious injuries. But one of the greatest dangers oil and natural gas rig workers face has nothing to do with what happens on the job site.

Instead, research shows that driving to and from the drilling site may pose the greatest risk to worker safety. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2003 and 2006, highway crashes accounted for almost one-third of all fatal injuries suffered by oil and gas extraction workers. This represents the largest cause of fatalities in the industry. In comparison, highway crashes caused roughly one-fifth of workplace fatalities among all other industries in 2010.

Officials cite many reasons for the high rate of fatal accidents among oil and natural gas extraction workers, including:

  • The drilling boom created over 200,000 new oil and gas wells nationwide. Over 90 percent of these wells use a technique known as hydraulic fracking, which requires roughly 500 to 1,500 truck trips per well. This increase in traffic has led to more fatal accidents.
  • Drilling requires long hours on the job site. Because workers are often on 8- or 12-hour shifts, working 7 to 14 days in a row, they become increasingly fatigued and unable to stay awake when behind the wheel.
  • The trucks used by oil and gas workers are often in bad shape. According to the Pennsylvania State Police, 40 percent of the 2,200 oil and gas industry trucks inspected from 2009 to this February were in such bad condition that they had to be taken off the roads.
  • The gas and oil companies find ways to work around highway safety rules. For example, Energy Services received multiple citations in 2009 for allowing or requiring truckers to drive after working the legal limit of 14 hours per shift.
  • Truck drivers and workers frequently travel between oil and gas wells located on rural highways, which often lack firm road shoulders, rumble strips, and pavement. These bad road conditions can cause workers to lose control of their vehicle and crash.

The CDC reports that unless changes are made to increase worker safety, like implementing shorter shifts or safer road conditions, this trend of high fatality rates is likely to continue.

"Deadliest Danger Isn't at the Rig but on the Road." The New York Times. May 14, 2012.
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