Column: Life Behind the Wheel in the Oil Field
Vehicle crash data reported throughout the industry from state and federal agencies as well as independent sources show that speed and seatbelt use are the two biggest contributing factors that lead to oilfield-related fatalities.
Driving is quite honestly something that we just take for granted every day. Why, you ask? Because it’s become habit. When we climb into our company oilfield cars, trucks, and SUVs, our brains are filled with a thousand different thoughts other than driving. "Can I make it to work on time in this traffic?" "What should I fix for dinner?" "How will my children perform at school today?" "Is it going to rain?"
So why is thinking a problem while driving?
Thinking is a problem while driving because it means you are not focused on what is going on around you, including traffic in front of and behind you, whether you remembered to fasten your seatbelt, speeding without even noticing it, or paying attention to what lies ahead.
Vehicle crash data reported throughout the industry from state and federal agencies as well as independent sources (including the Permian Road Safety Coalition) shows that speed and seatbelt use are the two biggest contributing factors that lead to oilfield-related fatalities, and yet we battle these issues as much today as we did 10 years ago.
From 2003 to 2013, the US oil and gas extraction industry experienced unprecedented growth, doubling the size of its workforce and increasing the number of drilling rigs by 71%. To describe fatal events among oil and gas workers during this period, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries , a comprehensive database of fatal work injuries. Over a third of all worker fatalities were attributed to transportation incidents (479, 40.3%), and more than 50% of people fatally injured were employed by companies that service wells (615, 51.7%).
When you look at the vehicle incidents, in the Permian Basin for example, there’s a high number of third-party-involved recordables, at or near intersections and close to town where speed transitions from 70+ mph down to 35–45 mph are common. This is for no other reason than lack of attention while driving and excessive speed.
Take, for example, State Highway 302 located between Kermit and Mentone, Texas. Traffic from 2010 through 2015 increased from less than 1,000 vehicles per day to more than 5,000. The sheer volume of big trucks blended with light-duty vehicles exponentially increased risk and lowered the overall road conditions creating the perfect storm for more incidents. This resulted in 75 recorded incidents during this time frame: 28% loss of control, 24% rear ended, 15% head-on, 18% left turn, 8% fixedobject, 4% right angle, and 3% side swiped.
Seventy-five percent of these accidents show that the main causes were failure to control speed, lane-change assing, driver fatigue, driver inattention, and faulty evasive action—all driver-behavior-related causes, not road or weather conditions.
The Permian Road Safety Coalition is a perfect example of the industry working with Texas Department of Transportation and other industry experts to evaluate what is happening within their operating area and taking action to improve the condition of the roads and positively affect oil and gas fleet safety.
Why don’t drivers buckle up today? Every time this question comes up in discussion (typically following an accident investigation), managers consistently express frustration that, after all these years, employees are still not buckling up. As much as it might surprise and further frustrate company leaders, the answer is that, for most, it’s simply a learned bad behavior. If you look at the sheer number of times that an oilfield service worker gets in and out of a truck on any given day, it’s understandable that seat belts would become a nuisance.
We also see instances where an employee gets out of the truck, doesn’t put it in park or set an emergency brake, and the truck rolls over them. This should never happen, but it does every year. Again, these are learned behaviors that must be changed.