Mountain States

Three Things to Know as Denver Post Kicks-Off its Series on Worker Safety

The Denver Post is out with the first report in their “Drilling through danger” series looking at worker safety in the oil and natural gas industry that they say stems from a “year-long” investigation.

One issue raised in the initial story and likely to be seen again as the series progresses are tragic accidents that occurred during manual tank sampling that have been extensively covered by the Denver Post. The story has also been reported on nationally by outlets such as the Wall Street Journal and in reporting from Inside Energy and Rocky Mountain PBS that has been featured in the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Durango Herald, and other media outlets throughout Colorado.

The incidents are being taken seriously by the oil and natural gas industry and federal regulators such as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), by establishing a partnership with industry operators to get the word out about the risks and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in spreading the word for emergency medical workers.

So as the series continues, it is likely that there will be a lot more to come from EID, but here are three facts on worker safety in the oil and natural gas industry to keep in mind:

FACT#1: Government agencies have found that while oil production – and subsequently employment – has been on an unprecedented rise, the rate of fatal injuries has declined

Since 2008, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows that U.S production of crude oil has risen steadily from year to year while total natural gas production simultaneously reached new highs. And the rise in production brought significant employment gains in the sector. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA),

“Overall, oil and natural gas production jobs in the United States increased from 292,846 annual jobs in 2003 to 476,356 in 2008, a 63% increase. Following the net loss of 54,323 oil and natural gas production jobs during the 2008-09 recession and relatively little national job growth, jobs in oil and natural gas production increased another 28% from 2009 to 2013, from 422,033 to 586,884.

But even as shale development skyrocketed during that time period, CDC found that fatal injury rates were on the decline. As Safety and Health Magazine reports:

“The fatality rate for oil and gas workers decreased 36.3 percent despite an industry boom from 2003 to 2013, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

CDC says that partnerships between industry, government and academic institutions have “improved worker safety conditions.” From CDC:

“Collaboration between industry, government, and academic institutions might have contributed to improved safety for workers and likely should continue to drive the fatality rate further down”

Meanwhile, NIOSH issued a report finding similar conclusions, explaining that:

“Most segments of oil and gas extraction report a lower nonfatal injury rate than the average for all private industry.”

FACT #2: Compared to other private industries, the oil and gas industry has a low workplace injury rate

Government occupational safety statistics show that any job will come with some inherent risk. And while oil and natural gas development comes more risk than an average office job, the fact remains that there are many other occupations that have a higher rate of injuries, some of which are surprising. For example:

  • Oil and gas ranks well below other industries for worker risk, including fishing, bartending, and taxi and limo drivers, to name a few. (BLS)
  • According to the CDC: “Most segments of oil and gas extraction report a lower nonfatal injury rate than the average for private industry.” (CDC NIOSH)
  • In 2013, the injury rate for oil and natural gas extraction was 1.3 cases for every 100 workers, while the overall private industry injury incident rate was 3.3 cases for every 100 workers. (BLS)

Fact #3: The oil and gas industry is partnering with federal agencies to develop effective worker safety programs

As part of a concerted effort to continually improve worker safety, the oil and natural gas industry has partnered with federal safety experts at NIOSH and OSHA to help ensure that operations remain safe and efficient.

  • These partnerships have resulted in a number of important programs, including the National Service, Transmission, Exploration & Production Safety (STEPS) Network, an alliance with OSHA and NIOSH, founded in 2003 to offer courses in worker safety and other resources for workers in twenty oil and gas states.
  • STEPS, along with OSHA and NIOSH also holds what are called “stand downs” across the country, in which OSHA, NIOSH and industry meet to discuss worker safety issues and identify best practices.
  • 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. As NIOSH explains about this partnership:

“A goal of the NORA Oil & Gas Extraction Council is to identify the most salient needs of this diverse sector.  We seek to facilitate the most important research, understand the most effective intervention strategies, and learn how to implement those strategies to achieve sustained improvements in workplace practice.”

It’s also important to note that individual companies are spearheading their own rigorous safety programs. For instance, Halliburton lives by a program of 10 “life rules,” with the goal of getting to zero incidents, called “Journey to 0.”  As the Halliburton website explains,

“At Halliburton we start each and every meeting with a safety moment. We keep a repository of safety messages for our employees, customers and anyone who visits us at These safety messages are numerous, diverse and cover topics such as fatigue, malaria prevention, water contamination, ladder safety and heat exhaustion. To view them, simply click on the Safety messages link. Stay safe.”

The list of these safety moments can be found here.


Even during the recent downturn, the oil and natural gas industry continues to be an important part of Colorado and the nation’s economy, and a recent report by IHS CERA, says those jobs numbers are likely to increase:

“Combined with upstream activity, the entire unconventional oil and gas value chain currently supports more than 2.1 million jobs. Total jobs supported by this value chain will riseto more than 3.3 million in 2020 and reach nearly 3.9 million by 2025.”

Any workplace accident is a tragic event. Which is why the oil and natural gas industry is 100 percent invested and committed ensuring the safety of their workers, a fact that the Denver Post should take seriously as the series progresses.

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