Safety study being done this year will include surveying oilfield workers.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) will survey hundreds of oilfield workers this year to get their insights into the causes of accidents and injuries in the nation’s oil and gas extraction industry. The findings will be used to develop ways to improve safety and identify future research needs.

“We have been analyzing existing injury data and collecting exposure data in the field,” says Kyla Retzer, epidemiologist and lead researcher for the project. “We haven’t systematically talked to workers about their safety and health concerns, so this is a new approach to learn more about the hazards in the industry.”

A NIOSH report covering the first half of 2014 identified 43 fatalities across the nation’s oilfields. But that doesn’t include all of the vehicle crashes on roads and highways, because they aren’t included in OSHA statistics. Traffic accidents account for about 40 percent of worker fatalities in the industry. “The survey contains a whole module on motor vehicle issues, the leading cause of fatalities, because there is so much driving that occurs,” adds Retzer. “We want to learn more about the history of crashes, and also about driving behaviors and company policies surrounding transportation.”

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Other topics included in the survey are safety culture, training, personal protective equipment, well-site-related questions, gauging and fluid sampling, and general questions about issues that may be of concern to workers in the field.

The project will begin in North Dakota and Texas, but it may spread to more of the country as NIOSH continues to seek companies willing to have their employees participate in the survey. “We’ve had quite a bit of interest,” says Retzer. Companies that agree to participate will receive a summary of the results from surveys of their employees.

Once all the data is collected and analyzed, the results will be reported to participating companies and presented at safety and industry meetings across the country in 2017, with an eventual scientific paper. “The first priority is to report results to safety and industry people,” says Retzer. “The whole purpose is to find information we didn’t have that can help companies improve safety and health in the oilfields.”

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NIOSH plans to distribute more than 500 questionnaires to workers in the oil and gas fields, an occupation that has a fatality rate seven times more than the national average. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 663 workers were killed in the oilfield industry between 2007 and 2012, with 40 percent of those occurring in Texas.

How to participate in the NIOSH survey

Companies willing to allow NIOSH to survey their employees should contact lead researcher Kyla Retzer at 303/236-5934. Questionnaires will be given to employees who volunteer to participate at company man camps, training centers, equipment/trucking yards, well sites and community centers in oilfield towns. The survey will take about 40 minutes to complete. The surveys are confidential and workers’ identities will be protected.

Assessing Safety and Health Hazards to Workers in Oil and Gas Extraction: A Survey

From the public notice of the NIOSH study in the Federal Register:

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“The goals of this study are (1) To determine on-duty and off-duty factors that contribute to motor vehicle crashes, injuries and illness among U.S. land-based O&G (oil and gas) extraction workers and (2) To identify other safety and health needs and concerns of U.S. land-based O&G extraction workers, a largely non-unionized workforce. The results of this study will guide the development of evidence-based and priority interventions and future research in the O&G extraction industry that will improve the safety and health of O&G workers.”

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