When the North Dakota Legislature holds its next regular session in January,
2017, two lawmakers plan to introduce bills to help reduce
workplace injury in the Bakken. In the past five years, federal officials cited just one
major energy operator for a workplace fatality in North Dakota or Montana.
Although the planned legislation is too late for many workers and their
families, making sure that employers take responsibility for Bakken oil
field workplace accidents is important going forward.
Now, oil companies incentivize their workers for unsafely speeding up production
and avoid paying full settlement costs when injury occurs.
Working from a bill proposed in the state Legislative Assembly in 2011, the
lawmakers will draft the new bills after consulting with original supporters and
legislators and advocates from other states who successfully passed similar
Each lawmaker will introduce separate anti-indemnification bills in each
legislative chamber. The failed 2011 measure blocked companies from adding
language to Bakken oil and gas production contracts that forced smaller
contractors to indemnify them from worker injury.
In 2011, Republican legislators including many representing oil development
districts, sponsored the bill with backing from the insurance industry
but lobbying by oil interests overcame support and the bill failed 63-27
in the House.
The legislators will also propose bills to increase workplace safety oversight
statewide including the Bakken oil fields. In 2015, North Dakota launched
a rail safety program which pays for two new safety inspectors to look
over rail cars transporting crude oil; this will serve as a model for
This bill would also provide funds for state safety inspectors to complement
OSHA’s efforts investigating Bakken workplace accidents. Premiums
that employers pay to North Dakota’s Workforce Safety and Insurance
Agency would fund the program. Under the bill, the state inspectors would
carry out surprise visits to Bakken oil and gas field employers to verify
that they are complying with federal law.
Needless to say, labor leaders and safety advocates are enthusiastic about
the planned bills. According to one senior safety and health specialist
at the AFL-CIO, companies have not provided effective, system-wide safety
and health protection. Please
contact us if you have sustained an injury from inadequate safety and health oversight.