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Safety group probes Texas drilling industry (2 of 2)

As we have been discussing, drilling for oil and gas in Texas has surged over the past few years and so have industry deaths. In response, a government and industry safety group called the National Occupational Research Agenda has been studying the problem and looking for ways to improve these dangerous workplaces.

NORA was able to pinpoint several dangerous factors that could be contributing to the high number of deaths in the industry. First, it found that it is common for drilling operations to run 24/7, and workers often put in 12-hour shifts for one or two weeks straight.

The drilling is also performed in all kinds of weather, from very hot to very cold. Just getting to the drilling sites can also be difficult and dangerous as they are often located in remote areas, only accessed by long gravel roads.

Additionally, workers use heavy equipment and large tools, and oftentimes, the workers are not properly trained because of the high demand. The surge in the industry has also resulted in old rigs being used, which lack the safety features of the newer models.

All of these conditions contribute to a dangerous working environment, NORA found. However, it said that there is a safety project that shows promise in raising awareness of these safety issues in South Texas.

The STEPS Network was kicked off in 2004 and, in effect, gets drilling companies to meet with OSHA on a monthly basis to discuss safety matters. The goal is to get the oil companies to work with the federal agency that regulates the industry instead of against it.

OSHA officials have reported that the project appears to be working as they have received stories from the rigs and drilling sites of workers who are now refusing to take dangerous shortcuts because they are confident that their employers will support them.

Source: State Impact, "Drilling's Dangers: What Might Reduce Worker Deaths," Dave Fehling, Feb. 6, 2012

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