Noble McIntyre on October 8, 2013
We’re talking a lot right now about injuries to workers in the oil and energy injuries. Last week’s post was about how you can protect yourself from oil field injuries and what to do if you or a loved one is injured.
Did you know, though, that the deadliest danger is driving? A recent New York Times article detailed the risk to oil workers just from being behind the wheel. The main issue? Fatigue. The article cites that over the past decade, more than 300 oil and gas workers have been killed in highway crashes, and these fatalities are being attributed to oil field exemptions from highway safety rules so that truckers can work longer hours than drivers in other industries.
The exemptions help workers to earn more money, but at what cost? Just like medical residents have a limit on the number of hours they can work per shift in order to ensure patient safety, there are limits on the number of hours that oil truck drivers should be allowed. Oil truck drivers say that they will routinely work shifts that are more than 20 hours. The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration defined a “waiting time exemption” (among others) that allows employees to work hours over the maximum if their time is being spent waiting for materials to be delivered and then unloaded at shipping and receiving facilities. The reason for this is that operators require extensive training to operate complex equipment, as well as preparation for handling hazardous materials. Therefore, there is an “off-duty at well site” exemption, which means that hours spent waiting at well sites don’t count towards a worker’s daily maximum. Hours spent waiting are counted as “off-duty” time, even when drivers are remaining awake for the whole time.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is opposed to the exemptions. Ordinarily, truck drivers can drive up to 11 hours per day and 70 hours per week. They can work a 14-hour day if they are not behind the wheel for the whole time. The oilfield exemption allows oil rig drivers to work a 20-hour day. The NTSB, which has studied operator fatigue, says that there are too many accidents where lack of sleep and fatigue were either the cause or a contributing factor.
Now, as the oil industry continues to flourish, these fatigue-related crashes are a growing concern. Nearly one-third of oil field worker deaths in a recent five-year period were highway crashes. The industry continues to put more trucks on the road, and the drivers are exempt from other truckers’ regulations. So, what will it take to make this job safer? We don’t know. The FMCSA stands behind the exemptions, saying that they’ve been in place for 50 years, and they are safe and clear enough. The NTSB, however, continues to disagree, maintaining that it is unsafe for truckers to work extended shifts. Yet, these jobs are sought-after because they pay well and sometimes require minimal training.
If you or a loved one have been injured on the job in an oil field or highway accident, let us know. We’re here to help.