On average, more than one worker per month has been  killed in North Dakota’s oil and gas and construction  industries over the past 30 months, so OSHA has  decided to step in with a focused enforcement program  to curb the trend.

Since January 2012, the 34 deaths in these industries have  accounted for 87 percent of all fatalities that OSHA has  investigated in the state, the federal safety agency said in a  news release announcing the launch of an enforcement  emphasis program.  The effort means more enforcement  personnel will be relocated temporarily from other areas of  the country to increase OSHA’s presence in the state.

At 17.7 fatalities per 100,000 workers, North Dakota had  the highest fatality rate in the nation in 2012.  For the  nation as a whole, the rate was 3.2 deaths per 100,000  workers in 2012.  In 2007, before the energy boom, the  state’s fatality rate was seven per 100,000 workers.

"These industries are inherently dangerous, and workers  are exposed to multiple hazards every day,” said Eric  Brooks, OSHA’s area director in Bismarck. “Their safety  must not be compromised because demand for  production keeps increasing."

OSHA noted that 21 of the 34 fatalities occurred while the  victim was working on and servicing drilling rigs or  conducting production support operations in the oil and  gas industry.  Serious daily hazards inherent in such work  include fires, explosions and equipment-related dangers.   Falls, struck-by hazards and trench cave-ins in construction  claimed the lives of the other 13 accident victims.   

OSHA’s enforcement push supplements a local emphasis  program combining education and enforcement that the  agency has had in place over the last three years for the  state’s oil and gas industry.  An oil and gas well drilling eTool (https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/oilandgas/index.html)  is available to help identify common hazards and provide  possible solutions to reduce potentially injury-producing  incidents.  The enforcement program includes chemical  sampling of fracking and tank gauging operations to test  for atmospheric hazards.   

OSHA also has participated in outreach events with oil and  gas employers.  This has included a multi-state stand-down  with the Montana-North Dakota chapter of the National  Service, Transmission, Exploration and Production Safety  Network. In that effort, more than 160 employers and 1,000  workers voluntarily ceased operations for one day to discuss  hazards and effective means to address them.  "Since we started the original emphasis program, we have  seen improvement in North Dakota's oil fields, and the  fatality rate has decreased,” Brooks said.  “But no death is  ever acceptable, and these industries are still hazardous for  North Dakota's workers.  OSHA will continue to use its full  enforcement authority ‒ along with these new outreach  efforts ‒ to achieve the goal of every worker going home  safely each day to their loved ones."