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Skills gap leads to worker safety problems for oil drilling industry

The skills gap in the oil and gas industry has led to a spike in on-the-job fatalities and injuries.

The skills gap in the oil and gas industry has led to a spike in on-the-job fatalities and injuries.

When one thinks of the skills gap in the work place – the growing rift between experienced employees leaving the workforce and inexperienced ones coming in – the inability to complete work related tasks effectively is the first thing that comes to mind. But this may not be the greatest threat to industry that the skills gap poses. The influx of new and inexperienced workers has led to a spike in worker deaths and injuries, especially in the oil and gas drilling industry.

Opportunities come with danger
Oil and gas, once a great story due to all of the job opportunities it provided for skilled workers, has seen it's reputation falter due to worker injuries and deaths. NPR reported that between 2009 and 2012, the oil and gas industry in the United States increased employment by 23 percent. The increase in hiring, however, has not come without significant cost. In 2013, 138 oil workers died on the job – more than a 100 percent increase over the previous year. The fatality rate for oil and gas workers is now almost eight times higher than the rate for all American workers, which is 3.2 deaths for every 100,000 workers. 

Some analysts have said that this rapid increase in the number of oil and gas worker deaths is due largely to the lack of training and experience in proper safety protocols. 

"During times of high demand like now, there are new workers brought into this industry, and these are workers that may not have relevant training and experience," said Ryan Hill, head of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. 

Inexperience and the long, difficult working days can leave young workers feeling fatigued, which can exacerbate the risk of work place injury. 

OSHA addresses the problem
OSHA is aware of the safety issues that oil and gas workers face – according to a press release, it has renewed its 2008 alliance with the Permian Basin Service, Transmission, Exploration and Production Safety Network in Midland, Texas. The alliance will hold monthly meetings in which they will share best practices and encourage safety as an integral part of the oil industry's culture. 

Among the issues that will be discussed is workers' exposure to hazardous vapors and gases, fall hazards, and fire and explosion hazards in addition to several other industry specific on-the-job risks. 

Canadian National Energy Board committed to worker safety
The need for worker safety in the drilling industry hasn't been lost on Canadian regulators either. The National Energy Board (NEB) conducted a review of worker safety practices in regard to oil drilling, especially in the Arctic region. In an effort to protect the lives of their workers and the integrity of the drilling equipment, the NEB requires any company that wants to drill for oil to provide them with the following reports.

  • Safety plan – a list of procedures, practices and resources of key safety related activities, along with monitoring and reporting protocols
  • Environmental protection plan – an outline that describes how the driller will manage the hazards to the environment that drilling can cause
  • Contingency plans – how will the employer respond to emergencies such as worker injuries, equipment failure, or threats to the environment. 

Every employer must provide these plans and have them approved by the NEB before they can begin any drilling activities. Companies that gain approval will receive a Certificate of Fitness, which authorizes them to undertake their projects, though it can be revoked in instances of non-compliance or if the employer tries to change any of their procedures without first notifying the NEB.