North Dakota the Focus of OSHA’s Newest Enforcement Program

By Roy Maurer Jul 21, 2014

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced an enforcement emphasis program to address worker safety in North Dakota’s oil and gas and construction industries, which have some of the nation’s highest worker fatality rates, at nearly six times the national average. North Dakota is the state with the highest worker death rate in the U.S., with 17.7 fatalities per 100,000 employees in 2012. That’s a dramatic increase from the seven deaths per 100,000 workers recorded in 2007 before the state’s energy boom.

The national worker fatality rate was 3.2 deaths per 100,000 employees in 2012.

OSHA will send more investigators to the state, and will continue to conduct industry outreach events and promote the use of its hazard detection eTool.

Thirty-four North Dakota workers have died due to work-related injuries since January 2012, according to OSHA. Of the 34 fatalities, 21 workers died while working on and servicing drilling rigs or conducting production support operations in the oil and gas industry. Some of the daily hazards experienced on these job sites include fires, explosions and machinery-related dangers. Additionally, 13 construction workers died because of falls, struck-by hazards and trench cave-ins.

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

OSHA has had a local emphasis program for the oil and gas industry since 2011, which outlines hazards and allows for increased enforcement. The enforcement program includes chemical sampling of fracking and tank-gauging operations to test for atmospheric hazards. In addition, the agency’s Oil and Gas Well Drilling eTool identifies common hazards and possible solutions to reduce incidents that could lead to injuries or fatalities.

OSHA has also participated in industry outreach events, including a multistate stand-down with the Montana-North Dakota chapter of the National Service, Transmission, Exploration and Production Safety Network, in which 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,” said Brooks. “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.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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