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Road Accidents Leading Cause of Deaths Among Oil/Gas Extraction Industry Workers

Friday, January 18, 2013
More workers in the oil and gas extraction industry died from on-the-job truck and car accidents than from any other cause, according to a report by safety analysts with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The researchers also found that the industry's motor vehicle death rate was the second highest of any employment group.

The study, “Motor vehicle fatalities among oil and gas extraction workers,” focused on fatality reports collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2003 through 2008 and appears in the March edition of Accident Analysis & Prevention (Vol. 51).

Coauthor Kyla Retzer, coordinator for NIOSH's Oil and Gas Extraction Safety and Health Program, told BNA Jan. 11 that many oil and gas employers recognize the problem and are increasing their emphasis on road safety.

“It is essential that oil and gas companies have a motor vehicle safety program in place,” Retzer said. “Those who drive pickup trucks should be a focus. … Another focus should be on seatbelt use.”

For the period 2003-2008, on-the-job car and truck accidents took the lives of 202 workers, 31.2 percent of the industry's 648 deaths, according to BLS numbers. The second-leading cause of death was workers being struck or caught by equipment, responsible for 191 fatalities, 29.5 percent of the lost lives.

When the researchers compared the oil and gas industry's motor vehicle fatality rate with other industries, they found the rate of 7.6 deaths per 100,000 workers was the highest among any industry group except for the transportation and warehousing sector with a rate of 9.3.

Within the oil and gas extraction industry, well-servicing companies had a fatality rate of 10.6 deaths for every 100,000 workers, while drilling contractors had a rate of 9.4, and oil and gas operators a rate of 3.1.

The study found that smaller employers had higher fatality rates. Businesses with fewer than 20 workers had a fatality rate of 14 deaths for every 100,000 workers, while employers with 20 to 99 workers had a rate of 6.6, and employers with 100 or more workers, a rate of 3.3

Accident Trends
The most common fatal mishap was a single-vehicle accident, the report said.

Pickup trucks accounted for 51.5 percent of the deaths, while tractor trailers and other large trucks were involved in 26.7 percent of deaths; miscellaneous trucks, 12.4 percent; and automobiles 5.9 percent. Researchers were not able to determine what percentage of the vehicles were owned by employees or companies.

In only 11.9 percent of the deaths were the victims known to have been wearing a seatbelt.

The most frequent types of accidents were:

  • single vehicle overturning or jackknifing, 38.6 percent;

  • head-on collision, 20.8 percent;

  • singe vehicle striking an object on the side of the road, 17.3 percent;

  • collision in intersection, 8.9 percent; and

  • collision while moving in the same direction, 7.9 percent.


There was not a dominate reason for the mishaps. Among the causes cited in accident summaries were drivers' errors, 13.9 percent; speed, 9.4 percent; losing control after over-correcting, 9.9 percent; losing control on a curve, 8.4 percent; weather conditions, 9.9 percent; and falling asleep, 6.9 percent.

Contributing Factors
Several factors may be contributing to the industry's high rate, researchers concluded.

Many of the workers could be driving long distances and hours after already being fatigued by long shifts at drilling sites, the report said. While Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rules limit the consecutive hours drivers of commercial vehicles can be on the road, pickup trucks are not covered by FMCSA rules unless they bear a placard for transport of hazardous materials.

A factor for the drivers of large trucks designed to service wells is that their waiting time at a drilling site does not count toward their total on-duty hours. “The result is that although these workers may not be exceeding the maximum number of driving hours, the length of their shifts may be extended, thereby contributing to fatigue,” the study said.

When looking at reasons for the lack of seatbelt use, the authors noted that several states where oil and gas extraction is prominent--Colorado, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming--do not have laws allowing police to stop drivers if the only suspected offense is driving without wearing a seatbelt.

Drivers may also believe that they only need to wear a seatbelt when they decide weather or road conditions are hazardous, the report said.

By Bruce Rolfsen

The study is available for a fee at

Information about NIOSH's oil and gas program office is available at

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