Sunday, May 20, 2012

Are Long Hours Making Oil Workers a Serious Hazard on the Road?

From The Denver Post:
After working 17 hours straight at a natural-gas well in Ohio, Timothy Roth and three other crew members climbed into their company truck about 10 p.m. one night last July and began their four-hour drive to their drilling service company's shop in West Virginia.
When they were 10 minutes from home, the driver fell asleep at the wheel, veered off the highway and slammed into a sign that sheared off part of the truck's side, killing Roth.
About two months before the fatal crash, Roth nearly died in a similar accident when another co-worker with the same company fell asleep at the wheel after a long shift and ran the company's truck into a pole.
In 2009, Roth's employer was penalized in New York, Pennsylvania and Utah for violations including "requiring or permitting" its oil field truckers to drive after working for 14 hours, the legal limit.
Over the past decade, more than 300 oil-and-gas workers like Roth were killed in highway crashes, the largest cause of fatalities in the industry. Many of these deaths were due in part to oil field exemptions from highway safety rules that allow truckers to work longer hours than drivers in most other industries, according to safety and health experts.
Many oil field truckers say that although these exemptions help them earn more money, they are routinely used to pressure workers into driving after shifts that are 20 hours or longer.
Last year, the National Transportation Safety Board said it "strongly opposed" the oil field exemptions because they raise the risk of crashes.
This threat will grow substantially in coming years, safety advocates warn. According to federal officials, more than 200,000 new oil-and-gas wells will be drilled nationwide over the next decade. The common drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, leads to far more trucks on the road than traditional drilling.
Drilling jobs are hazardous, with fatality rates that are seven times the national average across all industries. Nearly a third of the 648 deaths of oil field workers from 2003 to 2008 were in highway crashes, according to the most recent data analyzed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By contrast, highway crashes caused roughly a fifth of workplace fatalities across all industries in 2010.
"The growth of this industry is a big concern because it's adding so many more trucks on the roads and its drivers don't have to follow the same rules as others," said Henry Jasny, a lawyer for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
In 2005, as the drilling boom accelerated, federal labor officials noticed a worrisome trend: Fatalities among oil-and-gas workers rose 15 percent from 2003 to 2004.
After investigating, the CDC found that with the growth of the industry, not only were more workers dying but, more surprising, the fatality rate was increasing, meaning the relative risk was rising. Shifts grew longer, more inexperienced workers were hired and older rigs were being pressed into service, the agency concluded.
Read the rest of the article here.

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