Surprisingly, the most dangerous state for oil and gas workers is not Texas. It’s North Dakota. Oil and gas workers in North Dakota die on the jobs three times more frequently than the national average. In contrast, Texas was fifth on the list for workrelated deaths in the industry in 2011-2012, ranking behind West Virginia, New Mexico and Oklahoma in addition to North Dakota in oil and gas worker fatalities.
Why is North Dakota so dangerous? Some of it is just general risk-taking behavior, common among men – and they are primarily men – who work in the industry. According to a 2014 OSHA report, 50 percent of the oil and gas workers who die in motor vehicle accidents on the job were not wearing seat belts.
Another reason that North Dakota may experience the highest rate of fatalities among oil and gas workers is the relative newness of the industry in that state. Texas has been in the oil and gas business for a long time. North Dakota, in contrast, has been a significant player in the business only since the development of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing. This means that the workers are younger and less experienced than their counterparts in Texas.
A third reason, although anecdotal, is that the chance of a safety inspector going to North Dakota is remote, according to industry safety specialists. This means that companies are more confident that they won’t get caught not implementing safety measures for their employees.
However, the biggest reason that a place like North Dakota is so dangerous for oil and gas workers is that the smaller companies that are operating in the Bakken shale oil fields in North Dakota just don’t have the safety infrastructure in place. And it appears that the state has not really tried that hard, according to energy industry media reports.
In contrast, Wyoming, which also has a significant oil and gas industry, has tried to address the safety problems that accompany drilling, pipeline and rigger work. In many ways, shifting culture in Wyoming, which is known as a state dominated by anti-government sentiment, is harder than it would be in North Dakota. However, they managed it, at least for a while, and oil and gas worker deaths are half what they were a decade ago.
And what of Texas? Based on the statistics, it looks as if experience pays off to some extent. However, even though the worker fatality rate in this industry is lower in Texas, there are still far too many deaths in this dangerous line of work.