Why Is Worksite Safety Such a Low Priority in the Fracking Industry?

Some occupations are inherently more dangerous than others. A NASCAR driver faces greater risks than a member of his pit crew, and that mechanic in turn has a riskier job than a librarian watching the race as a spectator. But risks are relative, and they can be managed. Government and industry generally agree to act to minimize workplace dangers, even for relatively hazardous jobs.

But then we consider the hydraulic fracturing industry. Fracking is unlike other mining operations: all the personnel are above ground in the open air. You would think that careful safety precautions could make this a relatively low-risk job, in comparison to other industrial operations. And you would be wrong. Occupational deaths in the oil and gas extraction industry have been running around 27.5 per 100,000 workers, a total that is more than seven times the death rate for U.S. workers on average.

What makes fracking jobs so often deadly?

Energy industry workers perform physically demanding labor using heavy—and sometimes dangerous—equipment. Is this why fracking is a fatal job all too frequently? A study the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) suggests otherwise. The researchers found that the most common fatality for energy workers was traffic accidents, followed by being struck by an object. Other causes of death varied according to the role played by the worker—contractor, well servicing company employee, or operator. The study also found that workers employed by small companies have five times the fatality rate as workers from large companies.

One response to this new concern about worker fatalities in the energy sector was a sharply worded letter from the heads of the AFL-CIO, the United Steelworkers, and the United Mine Workers to three key federal agonies. The labor organizations demand that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) take immediate steps to improve safety for energy extraction workers. It urges the agencies to issue a joint “hazard alert” to highlight safety and health risks in the fracking industry, with a special focus on silica exposures.

Meanwhile, industry injuries continue to pile up

At the same time the labor industry was appealing for greater government oversight, a poorly maintained tanker truck carrying fracking chemicals crashed in Colorado, forcing the closure of a highway and the deployment of a hazardous materials team to handle the release. And just days earlier, two workers in Texas were injured when a hydraulic fracturing tank exploded.

Incidents such as these remind us that the general public is also placed at risk when the fracking industry neglects fundamental safety procedures.

We have been too trusting that the energy industry will be able and willing to adopt strict safety measures. It seems that trust was misplaced. Stronger government regulation might be helpful, but it seems unlikely that the political climate in Washington DC or Harrisburg will allow a significant strengthening of rules governing energy companies in the near future. With fracking expanding across Pennsylvania—and now moving from rural areas to cities—the dimensions of the crisis are growing.

Addressing the problem, one incident at a time

If we can’t rely on industry or government to act in the public interest (at least in the short term), then the only option left is to respond to incidents as they arise. Fortunately, in Pennsylvania we have the resources of the only Frackcident™ law firm in America. Ostroff Injury Law has helped victims of fracking accidents—at work sites and on the highways—across the Marcellus Shale region.

At Ostroff Injury Law, our Pennsylvania fracking injury lawyers are ready to investigate your injury case to determine who is at fault and what compensation they owe you. Fracking companies are making huge profits as they tear up our land, destroy our environment, and injure our workers and neighbors. They must be held accountable. Call Jon Ostroff today at (855) 880-6667 or fill in the online form to get a FREE, no-obligation evaluation of your case.