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Forum Editorial Board, Published December 20 2012

Editorial: By nature, oil work dangerous

It comes as no surprise that workplace deaths are up in North Dakota’s booming Oil Patch. The rapid increase in oil and gas activity has put unprecedented stress on all aspects of life in oil country. The changes include job classifications that are by their very nature more dangerous than other jobs. And there are more of those kinds of jobs than ever before. It follows, therefore, that there will be more deaths and injuries. That’s not a rap on the industry but rather recognition of the unique hazards of working in the oil fields.

The new numbers coming out of North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance (the workers’ compensation agency) confirm anecdotal evidence. WSI reports there are many more workers in oil country and a corresponding sharp increase in job-related injury claims.

In addition to a jump in deaths and injuries from direct oil field work, deaths and injuries associated with the increase in oil-related truck traffic are up. Again, it’s no surprise. There are more trucks on western roads than at any time in the state’s history. Compounding the danger, the new traffic is pounding rural roads that were not designed for such intense 24/7 use. Accidents are inevitable.

There should be no condemnation or indictment of state safety agencies or the oil/gas industry because of the escalation of deaths and injuries. WSI and oil companies are mounting an impressive education effort aimed at oil field workers, especially new recruits.

Let’s be clear: An oil boom of historic proportions generates extraordinary and welcome economic benefits. The entire state is feeling the positive effects of western energy development. But it also has a downside, and most of that aspect of such rapid change is being felt every day in oil country.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.