September 14, 2023

Report Presents Data on Fatalities in Oil and Gas Extraction

Transportation incidents, contact injuries, and explosions were the most frequent fatal incidents among workers in the oil and gas extraction industry during 2014–2019, according to findings presented in the Sept. 1 issue of CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). The data are from the Fatalities in Oil and Gas Extraction database maintained by NIOSH, which tracks more than 100 industry-specific variables.

While the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) managed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is the main source of information on workplace deaths, it does not report on industry-specific factors, and it typically excludes data related to transportation incidents that occur during workers’ commutes. The NIOSH database includes these incidents because oil and gas extraction work often occurs in remote locations, necessitating long commutes. Of the 470 fatalities that occurred during 2014–2019, 26.8 percent were vehicle incidents. According to the report, previous research has indicated that low seat belt use is a concern among workers in the industry.

CFOI also excludes heart attacks, which it characterizes as illnesses. Since heart attacks can be caused by acute exposures to toxic gases and vapors, which are hazards in the oil and gas extraction industry, NIOSH includes them in its database. Cardiac events accounted for 14.7 percent of the fatalities in the NIOSH database. In 2016, following reports identifying nine deaths among oil and gas workers in which exposure to hydrocarbon gases and vapors was known or suspected, NIOSH and OSHA issued a hazard alert (PDF) that highlighted the dangers of manually measuring crude oil in tanks. This task required workers to open a hatch, which could result in the release of hydrocarbon gases and vapors. The American Petroleum Institute later published a new standard that offers safer methods for measuring crude oil. Other industry-specific factors that can contribute to cardiac events are the physical exertion necessary to perform work and the frequent occurrence of lone work. In the NIOSH database, lone workers suffered 21.5 percent of fatalities.

Another difference between CFOI and the NIOSH database concerns contract workers, many of whom work for employers classified in other industries. As one example highlighted in the MMWR report, crude oil haulers typically work in oil and gas extraction only during energy booms. CFOI does not attribute fatalities among such workers to the oil and gas extraction industry.

NIOSH data also revealed that oil and gas extraction worker fatalities occurred most often during the production phase of well development. Well-servicing and drilling operations also had high numbers of fatalities.

For more information, read the MMWR report.