Government Data Show Oil and Gas Industry Safety Record Continued to Improve in 2016

The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) show that the upstream oil and natural gas industry’s safety record continued improving in 2016.

New BLS data released this month show the number of upstream oil and natural gas worker fatal injuries fell to a record low in 2016, 29 percent lower than 2015 and 56 percent lower than 2014.

OSHA data also show that the number of “severe injuries” reported in the oil and gas extraction and support activity sectors dropped 29 percent in 2016 from 2015 levels. “Severe injuries” are defined as those causing hospitalization or loss of a body part, and were first reported to OSHA in 2015.

The declines in severe injuries and fatal injuries in the upstream industry — including oil and gas extraction, support activities and drilling — from 2015 to 2016 outpaced the overall decline in employment of 19 percent (457,000 employees to 384,000) during the commodity price downturn that occurred during that time. As E&E News recently reported,

“The pace of severe injuries decreased sharply in 2016. That’s in line with declining oil-field employment and an improving safety record.”

The most recent BLS data also shows the oil and gas extraction industry continues to see a decline in its overall rate of nonfatal injuries since 2014. Injury incidence rates started to decline in 2015 at the same time natural gas production rose to record highs and oil production rose to its highest level since 1972. They remained well below 2014 rates in 2016, at 1.3 per 100 full-time workers and less than half the overall national rate (2.9 per 100 full-time equivalent employees). The latter continues a trend highlighted in an American Petroleum Institute report last year that noted the injury and illness rates for U.S. natural gas and oil industry workers remains well below the national average for the entire U.S. private sector, also noting that oil and gas industry injury rates fell 45 percent from 2006 to 2015.

Though these trends are certainly encouraging, no death or injury on the job is ever acceptable. The industry recognizes its work is not done until it achieves a zero injury rate in the workplace, and safety remains the oil and gas industry’s top priority.

With that fact fact in mind, several safety programs have been implemented in recent years.

The oil and gas industry has partnered with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) as well as OSHA to help ensure that operations remain safe and efficient. These partnerships have resulted in a number of highly effective programs, most notably the National Service, Transmission, Exploration & Production Safety (STEPS) Network, an alliance with OSHA and NIOSH, which was founded in 2003 in South Texas to reduce worker risk with the clear vision of “Incident-Free Operations.”

STEPS’ partnership with OSHA has also led to the creation of SafeLandUSA, a volunteer organization that includes the oil and gas industry, contractors, industry associations and educators that offers a standardized orientation for workers in the onshore exploration and production industry.

There’s also the Oil and Gas Extraction Council, spearheaded by NIOSH, which meets twice a year to touch base on worker safety developments with industry.

Earlier this year, BLS released data projecting that the oil and gas industry would spearhead U.S. jobs growth through 2026. And fortunately, this latest government data shows that the industry is not only creating thousands of jobs, but improving workplace safety as well.


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