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Texas workers at risk of oilfield workplace accidents

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As drilling and fracking become more common throughout Texas towns, an increase in oilfield accidents has also been occurring. During the period between 2008 to 2012, more than 200 people died during oilfield workplace accidents in Texas alone. Add that to increasing figures in Pennsylvania and North Dakota, and the oil industry certainly has some answering to do for its poor safety management practices.

Multiple government agencies, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board are calling for stringent guidelines to quash the rising fatality rate across the nation. Refineries and chemical plants are already subject to certain rules, but on-site drilling rigs are exempted from many of those protocols. Now, advocates and those who have lost loved ones to fatal workplace accidents at oil rigs are calling for a comprehensive change.

In all, about 550 people died nationwide during the period from 2008 to 2012, according to recent statistics. Texas showed a significant increase of 7.4 percent, while oil boom states like North Dakota and Pennsylvania experienced increases of 300 percent or more. In Wyoming, however, deaths dropped by an impressive 45 percent. Experts say that the noteworthy drop occurred because Wyoming is the only one of eight energy-producing states to implement comprehensive measures to tackle workplace deaths. That means that fewer workers were killed on the job, leading to a potential drop in workers' compensation or personal injury lawsuits.

Some Texas safety advocates say that the southern state could take a page out of Wyoming's playbook. That state hired several state-funded OSHA inspectors, along with an epidemiologist, to help curb workplace accidents. The creation of statewide safety organizations and legislative reforms did not hurt, either. Texas lawmakers could make a difference in the number of oilfield deaths by adopting some of these provisions, which could ultimately change the state's safety culture for the better.

Source: Houston Chronicle, "Oil field deaths rose sharply from 2008 to 2012" Lise Olsen, Apr. 27, 2014

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