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Trends in motor-vehicle related fatalities

Figure 1.pdf illustrates the rise in deaths from unintentional injuries in ND (4) and occupational fatalities are a major part of that statistic. ND has the second highest rate of work-related fatalities in the nation after Montana (5). A NIOSH publication in 2007 reported that the oil and gas industry experiences a fatality rate of 32 per 100,000 workers, which is eight times the national average for all workers and ranks as high as coal miners. (5). Furthermore there is a statistically significant correlation between the number of drilling and workover rigs and the annual occupational fatality rate during 1993-2006 (6). ND state statistics show a 148% increase in oil drilling rigs and a 200% increase in the number of barrels produced daily since 2005 (2). The association between rig activity and occupational fatalities is concerning for states that are experiencing an increase oil and gas exploration, because with the rapid increase in activity comes an increased demand for employees and with the influx in employees, in the oil and gas industry comes a greater potential for occupational injuries overall.

Common injuries from working on the oil rigs are caused by getting caught in or struck by equipment, falls, explosions, and motor-vehicle-related incidents such as crashes, rollovers and truck jack knife (5). Highway motor-vehicle crashes accounted for more than 25% of all occupational fatalities nationwide and, thus, have proven to be the most deadly when it comes to the oil and gas industry (6) (5).

Carmell Barth at the North Dakota Department of Vital Records provided with the number of motor-vehicle related deaths in the past decade. Figure 2 below shows the number of deaths related to motor-vehicles in ND from 2000 to 2009. Overall the number of deaths related to motor-vehicle incidents has increased in the past decade. It appears there was a sharp increase around the time of the commencement of the oil and gas boom (2006), although this data does not stratify by location of crash or occupation of driver. Even so, it is apparent the crude number of MVR deaths is increasing.

Figure 2.pdf
*Counties of Dunn, McKenzie, Williams, Stark and Ward
†cars, pickups, vans, heavy transport

Transportation between work sites is the biggest exposure to motor-vehicle fatalities in the oil and gas industry but it is unclear whether the incidents are caused by individual-related behaviors (speeding, distracted driving, substance abuse), environmental (harsh road conditions, faulty equipment, demanding work schedules), or a combination of the two factors (5).

Connie Serhienko (7) is the forensic administrator at the NDDoH and upon request she swiftly provided information on the determined causes of deaths in the oil and gas workers within the past year. Figure 3 below displays information regarding incidents of oil field worker deaths.

Figure 3.pdf
*Oil field workers are from the counties of Dunn, McKenzie, Williams, Stark and Ward

Overall there were 13 injury deaths in this occupational cohort in the past year alone. Traffic fatalities are the most with 4 deaths, followed by work-related and suicide, then drug overdose and homicide (7). "Work related" was identified as two machine related and one fall, although it's important to remember that although the deaths did not get coded as "worker related," they still may be occupationally related if their job is a risk factor.

New Mexico looked at their high rates of occupational fatalities and found that the high rate of occupational injury fatalities are attributed to rural location, use of motor-vehicles, and alcohol use (8). The counties in ND that produce the majority of oil and gas are rural, the most deadly injuries are related to motor-vehicle collisions, and it is currently unclear what the root cause/s of the problem is/are. This alone is a sound argument for a need for surveillance of occupational injuries in the oil and gas industry, particularly related to fatal motor-vehicle injuries.

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