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The work

The variables (exposures) potentially related to the motor-vehicle related fatalities in the oil and gas industry are related to the type of work being done, personal characteristics of the workers, and the environment in which the work is being performed (physical and sociocultural).


An example of a job posting from an oil company is found in Table 1 below. You can see that the oil and gas industry is targeting laborers who are willing to put in many hours per week, and transportation-related jobs are in high demand.

Table 1.pdf

The nature of the work is laborsome and overtime is encouraged (10). Oftentimes field workers work strenuous hours for days on end which can lead risk factors for injuries. The oil and gas companies have been drilling about 1,000 wells per year, and it takes about seventy-four companies to drill one well. The types of workers in high demand are workers to run the rigs, drivers to carry product and equipment, technical workers and all of the support jobs that spin off from oil and gas (11).

Working long hours is associated with more workplace hazard exposure and less time to be healthy outside of work. For example when there is less time to sleep, recover from work, and spend time with family and other non-work responsibilities, workers can experience fatigue, stress, negative mood, discomfort, pain, and decrements in functioning, not to mention having less time to exercise and prepare nutritious diet (12). Stress is associated with increased alcohol and tobacco use, which poses additional health threats. These negative effects trickle into the worker's social and family life, potentially causing marital and/or child-rearing problems. The economic implications on a community level have the potential to be catastrophic (12). For those workers who are responsible for driving vehicles to transport product and equipment between worksites, these stressors can potentially be life-threatening.

The workers

Because of the rural location of the oil fields and low population density, there is a lack of experienced oil and gas workers in North Dakota. Furthermore, there is a perception that oil field workers are "traditional" and the oil companies' ability to attract and retain talent in the oilfield may very well be hampered by their "stodgy image" (13).

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The oil and gas industry employed an estimated 12,750 workers in 2009, and because the number of wells being drilled is increasing, the number of workers is also expected to increase. (11). The worker population in North Dakota is interesting and poses unique challenges for changing the culture of health and safety in the workplace. The oil and gas industry, in particular, faces challenges specific to ND in recruiting employees; these challenges include low population base, low unemployment, high labor force participation, and expanding economy in most other sectors (14). Furthermore, they have an aging population, and many young workers move out of state after high school and college (out-migration) (14). In an effort to maximize productivity, the industry has to tap into the resources available, which are lacking.

Worker/Community Environment

Because of the growing population rapidly there are issues of overcrowding which has law enforcement officials expressing concern about the increase in violence, substance abuse, and mental health issues related to in the communities where oil and gas exploration is occurring (15). Moreover, it has been hypothesized that the influx of workers to rural or isolated communities can bring about stresses to the local people and may increase crime, social diseases and psychological outcomes. Surveillance of psychosocial conditions is not mainstream and complex data would be needed to look at this issue further in ND (16).

Researchers in involved in the Mountains and Plains Educational Research Center performed a comprehensive literature review looking at health impacts of the oil and gas industry in Garfield County, Colorado, which has similar worker demographics as the worker in the ND oil and gas industry (17). They found several studies suggesting psychosocial issues that may be associated with industrial activity moving into populated areas. They have concerns about possible increases in domestic violence, rape, assault, child abuse, suicide, homicide and crime (18; 19; 20; 21; 22; 23; 24) . Some of these injury problems are already being experienced, as shown in Figure 3.pdf. The influx of oil and gas industry activity potentially creates psychosocial problems in the workers and those problems can potentially lead to injuries on the job. Stress, substance abuse, and fatigue while driving between worksites may be psychosocial factors associated with increased motor-vehicle related fatalities. In addition to the social environment, the physical environment also plays a significant role in motor-vehicle related incidents.

ND is known for extreme weather condition, which can be severe: blizzards, floods, droughts, tornadoes, hail storms, thunderstorms, high winds, severe cold spells, and extreme heat are not uncommon (25). Furthermore, the infrastructure is not able to sustainably withstand the high volume of truck traffic is involved with the oil and gas industry (26).When harsh weather conditions, psychosocial issues, and increased driving in a weak infrastructure are combined, the potential for injuries increases dramatically. When fatalities occur on the road, especially at work, it is necessary to document driver impairment, road conditions, vehicle safety features, and other environmental conditions related to the incident. It would also be interesting to look at the association of time of day and day of week, as well as when the individual last had a day off work. These data might help determine underlying causes of motor-vehicle related crashes, which could help change the safety culture in the industry overall. Also important to consider is the location of the incident in terms of emergency response and training of first responders.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is in the process of creating a research agenda to address the increasing burden on oil and gas workers. Table2.pdf outlines the five strategic goals of the National Oil and Gas Industry Research Agenda for 2020. The overarching goals address reducing fatalities by half from occupational-related and motor-vehicle-related causes in this industry (9).

Occupational motor-vehicle fatality rates is an agenda item by itself, which is appropriate since it is the most common cause of fatalities in occupational fatalities, and the oil and gas industry is no exception. This exemplifies the relative significance of this injury problem in this industry. Cost effectiveness of health and safety programs in occupational settings is often a good way to promote policy change industry-wide. The next section will discuss the estimated costs of motor-vehicle related fatalities in the oil and gas industry.

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