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Winter 2014

Energy Accidents: The State of Safety in the Energy Industry
Should Companies Be Taking the Blame, or are Careless Work Habits Driving Statistics?

The energy employee works in one of the most dangerous industries in the nation.  A fairly obvious fact.  What is not so obvious is that the danger has been increasing at a rather alarming rate in some sectors.  Fatal work injuries in Coal Mining increased slightly yet fatalities for coal mining support service workers rose by 9% in 2012.  Though specific data for Energy Trucking (those who transport gas, oil, or any energy support related product) was not available, the number of fatalities in “large truck” related crashes increased for a third straight year in 2012, climbing by 8.9% from 2011 (drivers and passengers – not including other vehicles/fatalities involved).  But the biggest gains in work related fatalities by occupation were in the Gas and Oil industry.  Those numbers are up – significantly.  From 2011 to 2012, oilfield deaths jumped by a dramatic 23% nationwide. 

And as the oil boom continues, so do the booming numbers of operations and employees in the field, as well as increases in every statistic across the board including production -  and workplace accidents.  Is that all these numbers reflect?  A typical increase due to sheer volume?  Or is safety in oil and gas production being overlooked?

When discussing the issue of safety from a “what went wrong” perspective, the immediate reaction is to assign blame.  Usually, that blame lands squarely at the feet of an industry.  But is the rise in energy related workplace injuries and fatalities the result of company policy, or worker error?  Certainly, if a company has failed its workforce in ensuring that it is safe, measures need to, of course, be taken.  And occasionally, those measures must be prompted by a public outcry usually in the form of a media blitz.  But let’s be clear:   The goal of this issue of Energy Ink Magazine’s feature on safety covers several different angles.  And if blame needs to be placed on the industry as a whole, we are ready to place it, even though we are a publication that relies on corporate advertising support to continue our work.  But without all the effort at creating suspense to entice our readers to “read-on”, it seems best to lead with the conclusions – then we’ll explain how we got there.

The point to be made at the outset is that though every industry in the energy business can be and should be doing a better job of creating a culture of safety in the workplace, the data and evidence as to the general blame for a vast majority of worker accidents is clear:  From mining and production to trucking and logistics, accidents are by-and-large caused by a neglectful act of an employee.  Perhaps the only one exception to this is in underground mining. That is not to say that companies running underground mines are more neglectful than their surface mining counterparts. The problem for these operations is that more can go wrong that is simply not “chargeable” to the worker or the company.  Evidence seems to show that collapses and explosions are carefully guarded against by both company and miner alike – in most cases.  But when considering the nature of the work, the goal of a 100% accident free workplace is seemingly impossible.

Oil, gas, coal, and energy trucking companies aren’t off the hook though.  Despite the fact that most accidents are the result of worker error, corporations still bear the responsibility of ensuring a well-trained workforce that has at its core the concept of safety first, production second.  This is not always the case, especially when construction and production timelines being driven by a push for increased profits pressure workers to keep up the pace.  Sometimes, it is within this culture of speed that workers become careless.  The fatal line between pushing hard and pushing too far is where the corporation must ultimately take responsibility – before OSHA has to be called. 

It is from this perspective that our Winter feature on safety in the energy industry will lay it all out to be seen.  What are the numbers, what are the causes, and what, from a generalized perspective, can be done to improve conditions? 

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By Eric Sharpe, Editor, Energy Ink Magazine. January 1st, 2014.


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