Energy Industry Goes ‘Above and Beyond’ on Oil-Field Safety, Companies Say

  • Joe Wertz

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Suzie Black and her daughter, Madison, of McAlester. Black, the "proud wife of a roughneck," says she worries about the safety of her husband, Steve.

Oil and natural gas producers, drillers and service companies pressure themselves to prioritize workplace safety in oil fields, company representatives tell The Oklahoman‘s Adam Wilmoth:

The oil and natural gas industry has come a long way from the wild days of the 1970s when it was not unusual for rig hands and other oil-field workers to show up to work with flasks of whiskey and when on-the-job injuries were far more common.

Alcohol and drug testing is widespread, processes and equipment are scrutinized, and “most industry players have gone much further than the law requires,” an executive with a Texas drilling company tells the paper.

Industry safety assurances aside, it’s been a record year for oil-field deaths in Oklahoma.

As of August, nine men had died in accidents in oil and gas fields since October 2011 — the highest rate since 14 people died in 2008, data from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration show.

The methods in which workplace deaths and injuries have been measured and categorized has changed over the years, so it’s hard to build a historical comparison of workplace safety in the oil field. And some statistics are purposely vague to protect worker privacy.

But the spike of oil-field deaths in 2008 is the highest David Bates, OSHA’s Oklahoma director, could find in federal databases.

The industry goes beyond OSHA’s “minimum floor” for safety, Garrett Gumfory, vice president of risk and health, safety and environment at Fort Worth-based FTS International tells The Oklahoman. And word of unsafe worksites travels quickly:

Another key motivation is cost. While safety equipment and training can be expensive, that cost does not compare to potential costs of injury or death.

“Safety is not nearly as expensive as not being safe,” Gumfory said.