While the overall numbers of workplace fatalities in the US has been on a steady decline over the past two decades, the oil and gas sector has seen a notable increase since 2009, according to data released by the Department of Labour.
In 2009, oil and gas deaths hit their lowest point since 2003 when modern records started being kept. There were 68 deaths that year. Three years later, in 2012, 138 people were killed during oil and gas extraction – more than a 100% increase, according to preliminary data.
That was up from 107 deaths in 2010 and 112 killed in 2011. In the US overall, workplace deaths declined from 4693 in 2011 to 4383 in 2012, the Labour Department said.
The number of oil and gas deaths has risen in correlation with the jobs created by increased activity across the sector, particularly onshore amid the shale boom. But that is no excuse, said Secretary of Labour Thomas Perez.
“Job gains in oil and gas and construction have come with more fatalities, and that is unacceptable,” he said in a statement. “We can and must do better.”
Data for 2013 were not available, but oilfield deaths have occurred with unsettling regularity through the first eight months of the year. Most recently, last week, 27-year-old John Roberts slipped and fell from a rig in Ohio and died at the scene in what was ruled an accident.
The week before that, an explosion at an ExxonMobil-operated oilfield in Texas injured three men, one seriously.
Perez said the Labour Department’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (Osha) has launched a number of outreach and educational initiatives, including a campaign to prevent falls in construction.
On 14 November, Osha will hold the National Voluntary Stand Down of US Onshore Oil & Gas Exploration and Production, which is co-sponsored by oil and gas industry employers.
“Employers must take job hazards seriously and live up to their legal and moral obligation to send their workers home safe every single day,” Perez said.
“No worker should lose their life for a paycheck.”