Oil Fields Workers Risk Injury

Road death numbers in America have been dropping steadily for decades. But road deaths are on the rise again in one state: Texas. Beginning in 2008, when the oil drilling and fracking boom began in Texas, the state has seen an increase in the number of road deaths, and “triple tragedies,” accidents that kill 3 or more people, are becoming more common as well.

Texas 72, a rural oil patch road referred to as “death row,” has become one of the deadliest highways in Texas. The drilling and fracking boom has boosted fatal accidents for oil and gas workers, and for the drivers who share the roads with these workers. The workers typically work long shifts, sometimes 24 hour shifts, before getting behind the wheel. According to the Houston Chronical, the death toll in 2013 from road accidents more than doubled the 2010 figure (148 and 72 dead, respectively). Texas has now surpassed California as the state with the highest number of motor vehicle deaths.

While it is unclear how many of these accidents were directly related to the oil boom, one thing is clear: being an oil patch worker can be a dangerous job. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, oil patch workers are 8.5 times more likely to die in work-related transportation accidents than other private employees.  And the Texas Department of Insurance confirmed that transportation accidents killed about 50% of the 50 Texas oil patch workers that were killed in 2013.

Many oil patch workers work 2 week shifts of 12-hour days, then have to commute long distances. Fatigue is commonly a factor in these fatal accidents. Several studies over the years have found that driving while fatigued is comparable to driving drunk. Some argue that fracking site employers should provide a designated driver or on-site resting areas. Both solutions would be inexpensive and could potentially save many lives.

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