First, here’s some good news for the oil and gas industry: A 2016 study showed that fatalities and injuries have decreased by 10% from the previous decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While extraction work is still 6 times more dangerous than any other job, safety is improving at worksites.
Experts say the change is happening due to better safety standards, improved company cultures, and new technology that assists with hazard management. These positive indicators bode well for the future of the industry.
The Exception: Transportation
However, one aspect of oil and gas work remains at historically high levels of fatalities and injuries: transportation. During the transportation of materials and equipment, workers are at risk of accidents that cause fully 50% of the entire industry’s fatalities. It’s also the #1 contributor to non-fatal injuries.
The New York Times conducted an investigation into oilfield deaths in 2012 and concluded, “The deadliest danger isn’t at the rig, but on the road.” They found that the riskiest activity for any oil worker was driving, including traveling to worksites, transporting resources, and loading/unloading during departure and arrival.
Why is transportation so dangerous? Numerous studies have been done on the subject, revealing a large number of hard-to-manage causes. They include:
- Remote worksites with poor access roads and unexpected hazards
- Dangerous substances like crude oil
- Highway driving, which adds risk especially during long distances
- Exhausted workers who might work 12 hours straight then drive
- Exemptions that allow oil and gas companies to avoid government rules
- Cultural pressure to avoid rest breaks, bend the rules, and ignore safety protocols
- Criminal acts by political/activist forces and disgruntled employees
- Poor training on travel and transportation tasks
- Equipment failure due to lack of regular monitoring and maintenance
The Cost of Transportation Dangers
It’s unpleasant to put a price tag on human life, but oil and gas companies must do it to get a grasp on the situation. When a major injury or fatality occurs, it comes with a high price for both the company and victim’s family.
- Loss of life
- Lawsuits and settlements
- Counseling and support for coworkers
- Regulatory fines
- Reputational damage within the industry
- Reputational damage in the public and media
- Lost contracts
- Productivity losses
- Additional security and safety equipment
- Hiring and training a new worker
The costs above can vary wildly, but here are a few facts to consider. One study found that after a workplace fatality, employers usually lost at least 1 day to 1 week of productive work time. This cost was about $200,000 per day, and up to $1 million in additional lost production value.
Another 10-year study found that the average cost of a fatality in the U.S. oil, extraction, and mining industry was $1,026,000. This included costs of emergency transport, medical claims, rehabilitation, coroner/burial, property damage, investigation, equipment replacement, recruiting, training, and administration of company programs.
Rethinking and Retraining
Transportation safety starts with good leadership and training, because human error is the root cause of most oil and gas industry accidents. As an executive from Anadarko Petroleum put it, “You can’t fix stupid. What’s the answer? A culture of safety. It has to be through leadership and supported through procedures — a safety management system.”
Here are some best practices for transportation training and safety:
- Allow rest breaks and follow government guidelines for sleep and rest time
- Develop clear procedures for handling and transporting hazardous substances
- Monitor highway driving and prevent over-long voyages, or split into shifts
- Encourage workers to report exhausted co-workers without fear of retaliation
- Invest in regular training for new and existing employees
- Monitor and maintain equipment and vehicles for leaks, damage, and failures
- Reshape company culture to support safety rules
- Use a reporting app, like FirstHand
- Use a dashboard monitoring system, like CloseWatch
FirstHand and CloseWatch are tech-powered monitoring software systems from Zeteky.