There is no denying that working in the oilfield comes with some level of danger. Although explosions and fires make the news more often than other accidents, the most common accident for oilfield workers actually involves the road. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 51 of the 112 oil industry workplace fatalities in 2011 were due to transportation incidents. Comparatively, only 12 fatalities were due to fire or explosions and 26 were due to “contact with objects and equipment,” which often means objects falling on the worker.
According to The New York Times, the oil industry is not alone in ranking highway crashes among the top cause of fatalities for workers. What does differ is the way in which the industry circumvents the safety laws in place to prevent these types of accidents. In one case concerning the death of an oil worker, the company was previously cited for neglecting the 14-hour limit for drivers during one shift.
Many of the drivers work long hours and get behind the wheel to drive despite fatigue, which increases the risk of an accident and has been linked to several fatal crashes. Shifts can last for up to 20 hours with minimal break time in between. Drivers might wait 10 hours or more with no place to get adequate rest for their crew to complete the job so they can drive home.
Other factors also play a role beyond fatigue. The trucks used by many oil companies are in disrepair or older rigs are brought back into service due to the oil boom. Adding to that, industry has a large number of inexperienced workers due to rapid hiring. The boom has also led to workers putting in much longer hours. Increasing the risk even further is that there is an increased number of trucks on the road. Compared to traditional oil drilling, fracking requires 500 to 1500 trucks per well.