With the rapid growth in the number of drilling permits being issued in Texas, it should come as no surprise that injuries and deaths on drilling rigs and well sites are also on the rise. The number of workers killed in the Texas oil and gas industry increased from 35 in 2003 to 45 in 2010, according to the Department of Labor. Nationwide, there were approximately 819 deaths among oil and gas workers from 2003 to 2010 – eight times higher than the average number of deaths for all other occupations.

Oil and gas worker injuries and deaths are usually horrific; one rig worker in West Texas was sliced in half by a steel cable. The most common cause of death is classified as “struck by,” which occurs when something malfunctions with a well, causing parts of the rig to become loose or fly off, striking workers.

What Causes the High Injury Rate in the Oil and Gas Industry?

The federal government is trying to determine why the death rate for oil and gas workers is so high so it can implement a plan to provide further safety measures. In a study conducted by the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA), an industry safety group, it was found that the oil and gas industry tends to be more dangerous than other industries because:

  • Drilling occurs at all hours.
  • Drilling often occurs in extreme weather.
  • Workers use many types of large and heavy equipment.
  • Workers often work 12-hour days or longer.
  • The sites can be in remote areas where traveling (and getting medical help) is difficult.
  • With the oil and gas boom, labor is in high demand, so many workers have limited experience.
  • Older equipment often lacks proper safety features or is defective.

Taking STEPS: The South Texas Exploration and Production Safety Network

In an effort to address these problems, Texas began a project in 2004 called the STEPS network, which stands for South Texas Exploration and Production Safety. The STEPS program is unique in that it works with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as more of a partner than a regulator. Because of this approach, drilling companies are more likely to meet with OSHA regularly and work together on safety measures.

The STEPS program is trying to change the way of thinking on oil rigs. The program encourages workers to think about their safety and that of their fellow workers instead of taking shortcuts. The program also encourages management to support workers in their efforts.