The oilfield poses numerous risks on a daily basis. Drilling for oil requires physical strength and coordination, some knowledge of basic mechanical engineering, and higher-than-normal risk tolerance. Heat (both from oil drilling and the Sun) and isolation mean that medical emergencies are likely to happen at any time without quick access to a hospital.
The conditions for the oilfield, particularly for truckers, are also precarious. Tight spaces for oil wells require fine control of a massive, 80,000-pound machine—a machine that comes with massive blindspots. Additionally, operators have to navigate through dirt, mud, and other specialized obstacles on a daily basis. Even the commute is more dangerous than in other industries. Long shifts of exhausting physical labor can create a serious risk of falling asleep at the wheel. Some workers have suffered through multiple accidents where they (or a colleague) fell asleep at the wheel on the way to or from work.
The single largest cause of fatalities in the oilfield industry is highway crashes, per a New York Times report on the subject. According to the CDC, roadway incidents represent nearly 1 in 4 oilfield fatalities—nearly twice the fatality rate for drilling or well maintenance. But why is highway transportation so dangerous for oilfield workers?
The Risks of Driving While Tired in the Oilfields
One sleep study compared the effects of fatigue and drinking pertaining to driver performance, and researchers found that driving after staying awake for 18 hours was comparable to driving with a .05% BAC. Staying away for 24 hours led to a driving performance equal to .10% BAC—well over the legal limit. Given how often oilfield workers are driving home after all-day shifts, it's clear why truck accidents occur far more often in the oilfield industry than elsewhere.
The Impact of Better Driver Training in the Oilfield Industry
The cumulative effects of fatigue and the rigors of oilfield trucking have a profound impact on long-term safety. While there's not much data on the negative impact of oilfield trucking, we have some idea of what might happen if companies invested more deeply into training and prevention. In a paper presented at the E&P Environmental and Safety Conference in 2007, researchers showed the results of a training program specifically geared toward operators in the oilfield industry.
The training included:
- Fatigue management to prevent the effects of drowsy driving
- Driver training for tight oil well spaces and dirt roads
- Driving simulators for common oilfield hazard scenarios
These training choices indicate the chief concerns for oilfield workers: navigation, fatigue, and lack of specialized experience.
The results of the training experiment were dramatic. As expected, the drivers who underwent the new training program experienced fewer accidents than their colleagues who didn't. However, even the accidents those drivers did experience were less severe than other drivers' accidents, showing that training can actually affect the outcome of certain collisions. In the end, the drivers with more training made up 40% of the total drivers under observation, but they represented only 4% of the total accident costs.
Who Is Responsible When an Oilfield Worker Dies on the Road?
So, there's a clear problem in the oilfield industry: workers face life-threatening hazards from the moment they leave their driveways to the moment they return at night. The worst of those hazards—drowsy driving—is entirely preventable. The question is, what can be done to make life safer in the oilfields? And who can be held responsible for making it happen?
Ultimately, the oil companies scheduling shifts are the ones responsible for ensuring their workers have enough energy to commute and work safely. However, oil companies will rarely do the right thing on their own. In most cases, they need to be compelled. That's where our firm comes in: we investigate harmful or fatal oilfield accidents to determine who was at fault, and we ensure that those who were hurt get what they need to recover. In the process, we make sure the companies involved change their policies or procedures so that what happened never happens again.
Arnold & Itkin has loved ones in the oilfield industry; we know the risks and problems workers face on a deeply personal level. That's why we've committed our resources to advocate for injured oilfield workers across Texas and throughout the U.S.
If you've been injured, get a free consultation to answer your questions: (888) 493-1629.