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One oil and gas worker is killed on average every three days, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, which shows a spike in industry fatalities coinciding with the shale "revolution", while non-fatal accidents have reached a five-year high.
Oil and gas workers' deaths have reached an all-time high, according to the Bureau, with the industry registering fatality rates up to seven times higher than for private employees across other industry sectors, while the deadliest occupations remain agriculture, fishing and forestry.
"Job gains in oil and gas and construction have come with more fatalities, and that is unacceptable," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez in August.
According to a report from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 40% of oil and gas industry fatalities are the result of transportation accidents, largely due to the fact that oil and gas truck drivers are pressured to work longer hours than in other industries.
Loopholes in highway safety rules allow oil and gas truck drivers to drive more than 20 hours in one shift, often transporting dangerous materials, according to the New York Times, which also published a 2011 document from the National Transportation Safety Board rejecting the idea of special rules for the oil and gas industry.
Also chiming in on the issue is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has noted that the fatality rate in the industry has increased in tandem with growing numbers of inexperienced workers, longer working hours and truck fleets that are aging.
During a recent webinar followed by the Pittsburg Post-Gazette, Ryan Hill, program manager for the Western States Office of NIOSH (The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), noted that half the oil and gas workers involved in traffic accidents were not wearing seat belts.
"Operating a vehicle in the oil and gas industry presents a unique hazard," Hill was quoted as saying. Driving often takes workers into rural, isolated areas, where gravel roads "lack many of the safety features on highways."
Hill also noted a rise in fatalities due to falls, fires and explosions.
Last year, the report notes, nonfatal accidents jumped as well, from a five-year low of 1,400 in 2011 to a five-year high of 2,600.
The Bureau has been keeping track of these statistics since 1992, and the estimate of one oil and gas industry death every three days is for 2010, 2011 and 2012. The statistics, however, exclude fatalities in the state of Pennsylvania for 2012, while the state registered four related deaths in 2011.
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