Oil and Gas Extraction Workers Face “Disproportionate” Risk of Work-Place Injuries: CDC

The oil and gas industry can reduce work-place injuries by including contractors in worksite safety training, according to CDC researchers.

Workers in the oil and gas extraction industry, particularly contractors, are more likely to suffer from severe upper extremity injuries, resulting in amputation or hospitalization, according to federal health officials.

Researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that oil and gas extraction workers report more work-related injuries than any other industry in the United States. Their findings were published on February 8, in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

The oil and gas extraction (OGE) industry consists of the extraction subsector, and the well drilling and servicing subsector. The extraction subsector includes petroleum and natural gas extraction operators, who primarily work for companies that drill for and extract fossil fuels from underground reservoirs. The well drilling and service subsector includes those who construct, service, drill, or pump oil or gas wells, or transport fossil fuels from wells. However, many are paid as independent contractors.

According to the CDC, OGE industry workers make up only a small portion of the U.S. workforce, but the parts, materials, machines, and equipment they use expose them to hazardous chemicals and worksite conditions, leaving them vulnerable to work-related injuries. Those who service and drill wells, especially contractors, are more likely to work longer shifts, receive less training, safety equipment, and experience disproportionately more work-related injuries compared to those operating machinery.

The risks are even higher for contractors working in offshore locations, due to their close proximity to flammable gas processors, according to government researchers.

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OGE Industry Work-Related Injuries

In this new study, CDC researchers analyzed data on severe work-related injuries reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) between January 2015 and July 2022, focusing on injuries serious enough to require amputation, loss of an eye, or hospitalization.

Overall, 82,366 work injuries were reported across 32 different states, with 2,101 were reported among the OGE industry. The majority of OGE industry injuries involved contract workers.

Well-servicing contractors accounted for 1,473 of the reported injuries, oil and gas well drillers accounted for 491 injuries, and 137 involved oil and gas operators, according to the data. Among all reported injuries, well-service contractors experienced the highest number of severe injuries that required amputation and hospitalization at 417 incidents. Drilling contractors experienced 375 such injuries.

Among the most common injuries reported, 895 involved upper extremities, including 771 hand injuries, and 376 involved the lower extremities, including 254 leg injuries. Approximately 10% of contract worker injuries involved multiple body parts, and well-servicing contractors accounted for 520 of the severe hand injuries, and 183 among the reported leg injuries. Approximately 2,090 injuries were considered traumatic, including 740 open wounds, 589 bone, nerve, and spinal cord injuries, and 307 other traumatic disorders.

The most common cause of injuries involved contact with machinery and equipment, and slips or falls on structures and surfaces. Among all OGE contractor and worker injuries, 633 involved oil rigs and drilling machinery, 483 involved construction, 460 involved parts and materials, 174 involved structures and surfaces, 187 involved building materials, and 157 involved vehicles.

CDC researchers determined the findings suggest most of the injuries might be associated with the stressful nature of the industry, exposure to harmful chemicals or materials, and dangerous workplace conditions. The high number of injuries reported among well servicers compared to drillers and operators may be because many OGE industry operators hire contractors without providing proper or consistent training, protective equipment, and the contractors work more closely to objects and machinery likely to cause injuries.

The researchers recommend operators who hire site contractors improve safety throughout the industry by including all workers and contractors in daily safety plans, safety management systems, and by providing consistent training and protective equipment.

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