Work injury rates skyrocket in Oklahoma's fracking industry

The local oil boom and increase in fracking opportunities in Oklahoma may be good for industry leaders' pocketbooks, but it sure is not beneficial for many employees who have suffered serious injury or death on the job. As the fast-growing energy sector pushes long hours on its workers in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana and North Dakota, concern about worker safety seems to have fallen by the wayside. An industry-high 142 people suffered from fatal work injury at energy sites in 2012 alone, according to recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Experts say that the newest extraction technique -- known as fracking -- is considered high-hazard work that includes risks of exposure to chemicals, pressurized gases, heights and even the increased use of motor vehicles. Transportation is, indeed, a critical part of the oil industry, but fracking needs even more transportation support than traditional operations. Authorities say that operators are being called upon to drive water and salt trucks critical to the fracking operation, even though they might not have been fully trained. Further, driver fatigue is a very real problem for those who work 12- to 14-hour shifts daily; they simply fall asleep at the wheel.

Companies and insurers throughout the region are working to improve safety awareness by holding workshops to increase knowledge about specific safety problems. Drivers are being trained on proper vehicle operation, and policies are being instituted to prevent operators from getting behind the wheel after their shift. However, some experts say that training is just scratching the surface; policies including those for seat belt use and limited drive time are needed to protect workers.

Workers who are involved in fracking should not face higher risk of unsafe working conditions because employers are too lazy to institute appropriate policies and protections. Those who have been injured at work while fracking may be entitled to workers' compensation benefits. Further, those who have lost a loved one to such an event may also be able to file workers' compensation claims. These employees deserve remuneration for their injury and negative experience.

Source: Business Insurance, "Oil boom and fracking cause spike in energy industry workplace deaths" Stephanie Goldberg, Jul. 06, 2014

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