A March 12, 2015, Wall Street Journal (WSJ)
article reports that, from October 2014 to February 2015, at least eight deaths
occurred in the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota. This represented more
deaths than in the previous 12 months combined.
In fact, the WSJ reports that North Dakota now has the highest workplace
fatality rate in the United States. Some see a connection between the
declining number of active drilling rigs and a rise in death rates. Officials
caution that it is still too early to make a definitive connection, however.
Economic Pressures to Compromise Safety
Nonetheless, federal safety officials have expressed concern that the rapid
pull-back in drilling activity related to dropping crude-oil prices may
actually lead to an increase in oil field accidents and/or fatalities.
The reasoning is that the plunge in oil company profits may result in
questionable cost-cutting practices that could compromise safety.
OSHA's director of its Bismarck office told the WSJ that companies
are sometimes tempted to hire lower-cost, inexperienced contractors to
preserve profit margins. Reports of payments to certain contractors being
cut by 20 percent or more elevate the level of concern.
Safety personnel have also cited an increased incidence of elementary safety
violations. For example, there have been a number of incidents in which
workers brought heaters and other motorized equipment into enclosed spaces
where flammable vapors are often present. This might result in a fire.
Potentially Positive Outcomes
At the same time, he noted that some companies were actively taking measures
to address worker safety concerns since the downturn in crude oil prices.
Unnamed oil execs also surmised that the precipitous decline in oil prices
may actually improve worker safety in the long-term by eliminating inexperienced
Our firm represents the interests of Bakken oil field workers injured or
killed in the workplace. We offer a complimentary consultation to those
adversely impacted by oil field accidents. For more information, please