For workers in the oil industry, the most dangerous part of the job doesn’t seem to be the job itself. As a recent New York Times Article highlighted, most of the deaths in the industry don’t occur out on the rig or in the oil fields, but instead in highway crashes involving over-worked and fatigued employees driving in company vehicles after long shifts.
According to that article, over the last decade, more than 300 oil and gas workers were killed in auto accidents. Between just the years of 2003 and 2008, there were 648 deaths of oil field workers. One-third of those were due to highway crashes. In comparison, highway accidents accounted for only one-fifth of all workplace fatalities in 2010. As the oil industry expands in the future, agencies that oversee the oil and gas industry fear that those numbers could grow.
But why are auto accidents so much more prevalent for oil and gas workers? The problem seems to be loopholes in regulations that relate to the industry. Some of those loopholes have to do with the number of hours employees can work in a given shift. For example, there are oil field exemptions from highway safety rules that allow truckers to work longer hours than similar drivers in other industries–while most commercial truckers must stop driving no later than 14 hours after their workday begins, oil and gas industry drivers can avoid that limit by not counting wait times that can be up to 10 hours long. Exemptions like this have been on the books since the 1960’s, despite repeated attempts to modify them.
In addition, there seems to be a lack of oversight and, particularly as the industry expands, the inspection levels just can’t keep up. Unlike the mining industry, the oil and gas industry doesn’t have to report when their truckers crash on public roads. And many of the trucks that the employees are using are in disrepair, increasing the risk of highway crashes. Some companies have also found ways to skirt the rules that do apply to trucker safety such as using “shell companies” to obtain federal transportation registration.
These are serious problems for both worker safety and highway safety. The regulations for truckers in the oil and gas industry affect all of us and in this case, negatively. It’s time for safety to take precedence over profit.