Fatalities in Oil and Gas Extraction Database…


This report is the first to describe the FOG database creation and methods with an overview of worker fatalities during 2014–2019. The number of worker fatalities in the FOG database was less than the number of OGE fatalities in CFOI, which might be attributed to CFOI having access to more data sources for case identification compared with the FOG database. The inclusion criteria between databases also differs. The FOG database included 30 worker fatalities that were OGE related but assigned a NAICS code other than what CFOI identifies as OGE related. Although the purpose of CFOI is to collect a census of fatalities for all industries, the FOG database collects detailed OGE industry-specific information on fatally injured workers who might not typically be classified as working in OGE.

The FOG database also includes worker fatalities attributable to cardiac events and crashes during commutes, both of which are excluded from CFOI. Long commutes are common among OGE workers (5) and capturing fatalities occurring during commutes is vital to fully understand OGE worker fatalities. Cardiac events beginning at work are also important to investigate among OGE workers because exposure to certain chemicals or toxic substances used during OGE activities can mimic or induce cardiac events (30) (Supplementary Appendix 2, https://stacks.cdc.gov/view/cdc/131261). Among the 69 cardiac events, 13 workers had a possible work exposure. Cardiac events also can follow extreme physical exertion, which is common for certain OGE occupations. Working alone is an additional characteristic of OGE work arrangements that is important to consider relative to cardiac events and all fatalities, because 21.5% of worker fatalities in the FOG database were OGE workers working alone. The majority of worker fatalities in FOG also occurred in rural counties (FOG database, unpublished data, 2023), further complicating and potentially delaying emergency response for OGE workers involved in a cardiac or injury incident. Lone worker programs, medical screening, and enhanced exposure controls might be beneficial for the OGE industry (31).

The rate of FOG fatalities per 100 active rotary rigs was calculated to evaluate the association between the number of fatalities each year and the level of industry activity, which has shown contrasting relations in previous years (4,32). Although equivalent numbers of worker fatalities were identified in the FOG database for 2014 and 2019, the corresponding fatality rate for 2019 was approximately twice that of 2014 because fewer rotary rigs were active in 2019. Although the increased fatality rates in 2018 and 2019 compared with earlier years might suggest less safe working conditions resulting from high demand in the industry, the increased rates also might result from increases in drilling efficiency, which leads to lower numbers of active rotary rigs. Both the number of wells drilled and the number of active rotary rigs have decreased in recent years, whereas increases in production have reached new records (33).

Accounting for approximately 40% of U.S. oil production (34), the Permian Basin had the largest proportion of worker fatalities in the FOG database (31.5%). Worker fatalities in the FOG database are largely concentrated in Texas, which is the top oil- and gas-producing state with the majority of active rotary rigs and OGE workers (9,28,35).

Worker demographics and industry characteristics were representative of what is known about the U.S. OGE worker population. Among OGE workers included in the FOG database, the mean age was 41 years, and 14% of workers had Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, which is similar to national estimates of OGE workers identifying a median age of 42.9 years, and 14.6% with Hispanic or Latino ethnicity in 2019 (36); however, a large proportion of data related to demographics in the FOG database was missing. The higher proportion of fatally injured well servicing company workers compared with drilling contractors and operators was similar to the 57.1% of well servicing company workers in the OGE industry in 2019 and consistent with an earlier analysis of CFOI data that OGE well servicing contractors had the highest number of worker fatalities (4,9).

Consistent with previous research of OGE fatalities (4), vehicle incidents were the most common event type among worker fatalities in the FOG database. Analysis of the additional fatalities identified through CRIS motor vehicle crash records during 2017–2019 indicated that approximately one half of the CRIS fatalities occurred in pickup trucks and approximately one half of the fatally injured workers were not wearing seat belts. Previous research of OGE fatalities has also identified low levels of seat belt use (13,37), indicating that employer interventions to increase seat belt use are needed in the industry. Although the CRIS pilot study successfully identified 56 additional fatalities that were not identified in the FOG database, future research to analyze motor vehicle crashes in the OGE industry might benefit from exploring other data sources that do not require the time and resources needed to review the CRIS database.

Vehicle incidents also were responsible for one half of the multifatality incidents in the FOG database, the majority of which occurred on a roadway. Researchers were not able to deduce why multifatality vehicle incidents might be occurring because information on contributing factors (e.g., distraction and fatigue) is limited. However, this observation serves as a reminder that research investigating OGE worker fatalities needs to consider the risks for substantial driving exposure and long commutes, which are common among OGE workers (5). Other multifatality incidents in the FOG database were caused by explosions, electrocutions, exposure to harmful substances, and falls. One study analyzing multifatality work-related incidents in the United States during 1995–2010 similarly found that approximately one half of fatalities were caused by transportation accidents, followed by fires and explosions and assaults and violent acts (38). Certain multifatality incidents caused by explosions might receive more media coverage and response from the industry (e.g., the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion in 2010) and might lead to additional industry regulations and enforcement of these regulations (39). The largest proportion of multifatality incidents result from vehicle incidents and often go unnoticed.

Only 4.3% of worker fatalities in the FOG database occurred during offshore operations. A previous analysis of CFOI data during 2003–2010 identified an average of 16 offshore OGE fatalities per year (14). In contrast, 20 offshore fatalities were identified in the FOG database during 2014–2019. This apparent decline in offshore fatalities might have resulted from the reform in offshore regulations in response to the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion or a decline in helicopter incidents resulting from new technology and safer practices (40). In addition, BSEE reported only 12 fatalities from fiscal year 2014 through calendar year 2019 (41). This variation between the total offshore fatalities in the FOG database and those reported by BSEE is likely because of BSEE reporting requirements, which do not include fatalities occurring while workers are in transport to offshore facilities (42). NIOSH researchers consider traveling to offshore facilities a work-related activity because of the remoteness of offshore OGE work and include these fatalities in the FOG database.

Contributions to Industry

The initial findings from the FOG database highlighted acute exposures to hydrocarbon gases and vapors among OGE workers that were previously unreported (Supplementary Appendix 2, https://stacks.cdc.gov/view/cdc/131261). These range from special topic reports and scientific articles to hazard alerts and videos. Identification of unreported acute exposures to hydrocarbon gases and vapors among workers who open tank hatches led the American Petroleum Institute (API) to develop a new safety standard in 2016. This standard offers safer methods for measuring crude oil without opening the tank hatch to protect workers from exposure to hydrocarbon gases and vapors (43). The standard was also adopted by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management through an update of rules for oil measurement on federal and Indian gas leases. The update no longer requires companies to obtain variances (i.e., exceptions) to use alternative measurement methods, making it easier to implement safer practices.

Additional NIOSH publications highlighted selected periods of FOG data as well as hazard alerts and fact sheets on various topics. Hazard alerts and fact sheets were published in collaboration with OSHA, NIOSH, and the National Service, Transmission, Exploration and Production Safety (STEPS) Network Alliance and describe known hazards along with recommendations for employers and workers on how to improve safety for workers (44). Hazard alerts have been distributed through the National STEPS Network and through contractor management systems (e.g., Veriforce [formerly PEC Safety]; https://veriforce.com) to thousands of workers. Additional recommendations for medical professionals and medical examiners and coroners were provided by occupational medicine physicians and researchers to help identify signs and symptoms of exposure to hydrocarbon gases and vapors and oxygen-deficient atmospheres in OGE workers (30). Three scientific articles highlight three trends in OGE fatalities identified through the FOG database (i.e., cardiac events, heat-related illness, and substance use) and provide employer considerations to mitigate risks for fatality. Findings based on FOG data have been presented to multiple researchers, industry safety and health groups, and other industry leaders. Groups who have received data from the FOG database include API, IADC, the Association of Energy Service Companies (now Energy Workforce & Technology Council), the American Society of Safety Professionals, and the Permian Road Safety Coalition.

Surveillance System Strengths and Challenges

The creation of the FOG database and the first 6 years of data illustrate that the database is a valuable resource for identifying safety and health trends and emerging issues among OGE workers. Benefits of an industry-specific surveillance system such as the FOG database include the ability to identify emerging hazards, temporal trends, and risk factors that might be unique to the industry and to build relationships with industry partners with the mutual goal of promoting worker safety and health. The FOG database also helps researchers to better identify groups of workers who are at increased risk for injury. Emerging safety and health issues among OGE workers were identified through analysis of the FOG database (e.g., exposure to hydrocarbon gases and vapors and fatalities caused by heat-related illness, substance use, and cardiac events) (Supplementary Appendix 2, https://stacks.cdc.gov/view/cdc/131261). The FOG database includes detailed information describing the circumstances of each incident and the fatally injured worker while also capturing key variables that can be collapsed to allow for broader epidemiological analyses. The narratives describing each fatality also provide data that have been valuable to industry partners.

Certain challenges exist when maintaining an industry-specific surveillance system. The FOG database case identification and data collection process is labor intensive and requires multiple researchers with substantial knowledge of the OGE industry and sustained partnerships with organizations from which case information can be requested. Approximately one half of worker fatalities in the FOG database originally were identified through reports sent from OSHA to NIOSH, which might have occurred because OSHA does not report on fatalities involving self-employed workers or on a majority of transportation incidents. Identifying a large portion of worker fatalities required researchers to search other databases, examine newsletters and other alerts, and rely on contacts in the industry.

The source document collection and case review processes are time consuming and often result in documents lacking detail or received long after the incident has occurred. Periodic follow-up with OSHA area offices often is necessary until investigations are finished and all complete case files are obtained. Once received, researchers must review hard-copy OSHA case files that often exceed 100 pages to extract information relevant for inclusion in the FOG database. OSHA case files often do not contain the level of detail to identify all factors contributing to the fatality. Relevant information might be missing because OSHA investigations are conducted by compliance safety and health officers whose purpose is to determine whether OSHA safety and health standards were violated. If so, the officer must justify which standard is violated, to what degree, and issue a citation and recommend a fine. OSHA does not maintain a standard for OGE work; thus, citations issued by officers often are based on OSHA’s General Duty Clause, which lacks considerable OGE context. The purpose of the FOG database is to serve as a public health prevention tool by monitoring trends in the industry and identifying emerging issues. As a result, this lack of context in OSHA’s General Duty Clause often omits details important for prevention. For example, long work hours and fatigue are issues common among OGE workers; however, OSHA case files often do not report how long the fatally injured person was working before the incident or any details regarding work schedules.

When the worker fatality is not investigated by OSHA, researchers spend substantial time locating crash reports, autopsies, and other source documents from local and state governments. This process leads to delays in access to timely data and additional time spent extracting information from data sources that are not focused on public health surveillance. FOG data are not being collected beyond 2019 because of these challenges and the end of grant funding. Additional funding and access to OSHA data systems could allow for data collection in the future. Missing data also are common in source files. In addition, autopsies and toxicology reports are not always conducted or made available to researchers. When reports are available, certain toxicology tests that are relevant to exposures in the OGE industry are not always performed on workers, making it difficult to estimate the true prevalence of exposure to hazardous substances among OGE workers (31).

Demographic data in the FOG database were less complete than for a majority of OGE industry-specific variables, particularly for fatalities involving cardiac events. This observation…

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