BISMARCK – Along with oil prices and rig count, the number of deaths on Bakken work sites was down in 2015. But officials say they aren't ready to draw any conclusions.
There were three oil- and gas-related fatalities on work sites in North Dakota in 2015, according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration data. That number is down from seven in 2014 and 10 in 2013.
Eric Brooks, director of OSHA's Bismarck area office, said he expects to have a better idea a year from now whether the decline in fatal accidents is related to better safety or fewer workers.
Many of the fatalities that took place in the past were at oilfield service companies, according to Brooks, who said he has observed that more-developed companies with strong established safety programs have not been as impacted as those newer to the industry.
Those employees who have avoided company layoffs also tend to be more senior with more safety and work experience, Brooks said.
Across industries outside of oil and gas, reported workplace fatalities remained relatively flat. Eight fatalities were reported to OSHA in 2013, six in 2014 and seven in 2015.
Taking into account all work fatalities, not just those regulated by OSHA, a preliminary count totaled 38 in 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Numbers are unavailable for 2015. This number is down by 18 compared to 2013 and from 2012's record high of 65.
Of the 38 fatal work injuries reported in North Dakota in 2014, 17 resulted from transportation incidents and 10 from contact with objects and equipment. Transportation incidents accounted for 45 percent of the state's share of fatalities and contact with objects and equipment accounted for 26 percent.
North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance says, though workforce injuries were higher in the state in previous years, injuries in the oilfield were never out of proportion to the number of workers.
"As the workforce has declined out in the oil patch, WSI has seen a corresponding drop in the number of injured worker claims," director Bryan Klipfel said in a statement. "There are fewer workers, so there are proportionally fewer injuries. And workers with more experience are usually the last ones cut from job sites, so, from that standpoint, the safety environment is stronger."
Across all industries, 24,798 claims were made in FY 2015, as of June 30. The number of claims broken down by industry is not yet available for FY2015.
Safety experts say they are hoping the decrease is a consequence of their efforts.
North Dakota Safety Council CEO Chuck Clairmont said, despite the decrease in oil activity, safety trainings have not dropped. Trainings done by the council have increased 15 to 20 percent annually for the past seven years, including 2015.
Clairmont also said it is not just safety officers taking part in training classes. Supervisory training for those who may run work sites but who may not be directly in charge of safety programming is growing in popularity.
"We can teach compliance, but we have an advanced level as well," Clairmont said.