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Oil and gas industries remain most dangerous in Texas

Last month, the Houston Chronicle featured a telling report on the most dangerous job industries in Texas: oil and gas. The article reported that while overall workplace fatalities have declined in the state in recent years, the same is not true for oil and gas workers.

According to 2007-2011 data from the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, there were 197 workplace fatalities in the oil and gas industries, averaging out to 39 deaths per year. Only about 84 of the fatalities were investigated by OSHA.

After surveying OSHA-investigated workplace fatalities over a five-year time period, the Houston Chronicle concluded that more oil and gas field services and drilling workers were killed on the job than any other industry in the state.

While the overall number of oil and gas industry deaths might seem low considering that there are between 110,000 and 140,000 drilling and well supply workers in Texas as a result of the oil and gas boom, the fatality rates are still much higher than other major job industries such as agriculture and construction.

In response to the high fatality rates, OSHA is working on new initiatives to help promote safety in the oil and gas industries. In January, OSHA asked oil and gas employers to voluntarily "stand down" and temporarily stop work as a way of bringing attention to the major job risks.

While at least 88 oil and gas companies signed on to the initiative, there are still many companies that appear to put safety on the back burner. For example, Nabors Drilling USA LLC and its sister company Nabors Well Services had five OSHA-investigated workplace deaths in Texas between 2007 and 2011, which was the highest in the state.

Many worker advocates say the problem is that most oil and gas workers' deaths occur in the middle of nowhere with little media attention or fines. In some cases, employers are fined only around $1,000 when a worker is killed on the job and safety issues are subsequently discovered.

Luckily, families are often awarded much more than that in wrongful death lawsuits against negligent employers following fatal accidents. Otherwise, what would motivate employers to pay better attention to safety?

Source: Houston Chronicle, "Workplace deaths drop - but not in the oil industry," Yang Wang and Lise Olsen, Feb. 21, 2013

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