The United States has seen a boom in its oil production in the past decade and a half – “[f]rom 2003 to 2013, the oil and gas extraction industry workforce more than doubled and the number of drilling rigs increased 71 percent…” reports U.S. News & World Report – and common sense might dictate that with so many more moving parts involved that worker deaths could also be on the rise, however the industry actually saw a 36% decrease in worker death rate in that same time period.
This encouraging report comes from a study done by the CDC which notes the reversal of a previous trend, “[p]revious research found a positive correlation between the level of activity and the occupational fatality rate in the U.S. oil and gas extraction industry.” Two factors help to explain this decrease.
The first is the rapid development and adoption of technological advancements that have reduced workers exposure to dangerous situations. The category that saw the greatest reduction in fatalities was those “caused by contact with objects/equipment”. As mentioned a surge in automated technologies has allowed workers to remain safely at a distance from equipment they previously would have had to been in contact with. The CDC report specifically mentions hydraulic catwalks used for moving drill pipes and powered tongs that make and break pipe connections as technologies that have increased safety.
An overall increase in focus on safety serves as the second factor that explains the reduction of worker death rate. The CDC report mentions the creation of various agencies and networks that have allowed for a system where safety tips and techniques can be freely shared between industry professionals. The increased prevalence and innovation of the internet should not be overlooked in this regard, either. Now there exists nearly unlimited resources for safety protocols and guidelines that can be accessed anytime and anywhere – even at the most remote oil and gas sites.
Increased focus on employee health across all industries can also be seen as influencing the oil and gas industry’s dedication to safety. Organizations worldwide are realizing the benefits of proactive safety measures such as pre-placement exams and medical surveillance exams. The CDC report itself mentions that while these numbers are positive there is still work to be done to “continue and enhance surveillance efforts and identify risk factors”. Partnering with an occupational health specialist, well-versed in the intricacies of industries such as the oil and gas, provides a resource for keeping workers on the job and keeping them safe.