May 1, 2015

AFL-CIO Report: Death On The Job

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May 1, 2015 | AFL-CIO

May 1 is International Workers Day. It’s also the day the labor group AFL-CIO unveils its annual report on worker fatalities, Death On The Job, Toll Of Neglect.

Using Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 2013, AFL-CIO shows that, for the third year in a row, North Dakota is the most dangerous state in the country for workers, with a fatality rate of 14.9 per 100,000 workers. Wyoming came in second (9.5), then West Virginia (8.6), Alaska (7.9) and New Mexico (6.7).

AFL-CIO’s executive summary spends an entire paragraph on North Dakota, saying the state stands out as an “exceptionally dangerous and deadly place to work.” Its fatality rate and number of deaths have more than doubled since 2007 and 56 workers died in 2013. As we reported last fall when this data came out, 11 of those workers were in the oil and gas industry.

Indeed, North Dakota’s oil and gas industry is still particularly dangerous, something we reported on this extensively here at Inside Energy as part of our Dark Side Of The Boom series.

There is some good news for North Dakota: the fatality rate in the mining and oil and gas extraction sector declined from 104 per 100,000 workers in 2012 to 84.7 per 100,000 in 2013. Still, as AFL-CIO notes, this latest rate is nearly seven times the national average of 12.4 per 100,000 for these sectors.

There’s a whole section of the report devoted to the perils of working in oil and gas extraction, especially some of the emerging health risks involving toxic fumes near oil tanks. In the past year there has been a lot of media coverage on workers found alone and unresponsive on catwalks above oil tanks, and the AFL-CIO report names seven workers who died this way, four of them in the Bakken.

The first story in our Dark Side of the Boom series noted how much stricter safety regulations are for the mining industry than they are for oil and gas, something AFL-CIO’s report also highlights. The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration regulates mining, while oil and gas (along with pretty much every other industry in America) is overseen by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. As the report notes,

Under the Mine Act, all underground mines are subject to mandatory comprehensive inspection by MSHA four times a year, in addition to other inspections that may be conducted in response to complaints, fatalities or other information. All surface mines covered by MSHA, including quarrying operations, must be inspected at least twice a year. By comparison, there are no routine mandatory inspections under OSHA, and OSHA’s ability to inspect workplaces, including those in the oil and gas industry, is quite limited.

The report also notes that OSHA lacks any specific standards for hazards in the oil and gas industry, even though these standards were proposed over 30 years ago. As Eric Brooks, the OSHA Area Director for North and South Dakota, told us,

“It reminds me that even 30 years ago we had recognized a need for specific regulations,” he said. “When we look back at what drove this particular need, I have to believe the same conditions still exist in some areas.”

AFL-CIO concludes by arguing that safety and health regulations of the oil and gas industry must be improved.

Given the extreme hazards in the industry, and growing reliance on oil and gas as an energy source, it is time to consider a strict regulatory and enforcement system similar to what exists in the rest of the mining industry for the oil and gas sector as well.