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Do oil field truckers need better safety regulations? (2 of 2)

The fatality rate in the oil and gas industry is seven times the national average of all other industries. In total, 648 oil field workers were killed between 2003 and 2008. Shockingly, almost one-third of these were highway fatalities, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Highway accidents only accounted for about one-fifth of fatal workplace accidents across all other industries in 2010. Part of the reason for this is that truckers in the oil industry are exempt from highway safety rules that prevent truckers in other industries from after working too many hours and driving on too little sleep.

This is a scenario one West Virginia woman knows all too well. Last July, her husband, an oil field worker, and three other crew members piled into a company truck to head home after a 17-hour shift. When they were just 10 minutes from home after driving for almost four hours, the driver fell asleep behind the wheel and slammed into a road sign. The woman's husband was killed in the wreck.

The woman's husband was almost killed in a similar accident just two months earlier. Another worker had fallen asleep behind the wheel after a long shift and crashed into a utility pole. The company should have known that its workers were at risk considering it was penalized in 2009 in three different states for "requiring or permitting" its oil field truckers to drive after working the legal limit of for 14 hours.

Accidents like these have inspired some people in the industry to fight for change. One oil service trucker from Ore City, Texas, wrote a letter last year to federal highway safety regulators explaining the danger the safety exemptions create. He said that the exemptions allow his managers to make him wait for as long as 36 hours with nowhere to sleep before allowing him to unload his cargo and get back on the road.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration decided to keep the oil and gas industry exemptions in place in December, saying that the rules had "been in place for nearly 50 years" and they provided enough clarity. Unfortunately, if this attitude persists, many more oil field workers could be killed in highway accidents.

Source: The New York Times, "Deadliest Danger Isn't at the Rig but on the Road," Ian Urbina, May 14, 2012

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