The New York Times published a very alarming story this week. Loopholes in highway safety rules allow truck drivers in the oil and gas industry to work longer hours than drivers in most other industries. According to the article, some drivers are pressured to drive more than 20 hours in one shift. And keep in mind that some of these trucks are transporting toxic waste or dangerous chemicals.
Hundreds of truck drivers in the oil and gas industry have been killed in traffic accidents in past years, and the Times website provides important documents, including a 2011 document from the National Transportation Safety Board that opposed special treatment for the oil and gas industry. Nevertheless, in 2011 the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration declined to eliminate the oil and gas industry exemptions.
Highway crashes are the largest cause of death in this industry. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the fatility rate has increased along with the proportion of inexperienced workers, longer working hours, and the use of older trucks with fewer safeguards. Pennsylvania State Police operations confirm the poor truck safety record of the oil and gas industry. In one month alone, the state police issued citations to 1,066 of more than 1,400 trucks inspected. That is just one state, and the state police can't stop every truck.
The Times article and associated on-line features are worth reading. There is no excuse for tragedies that can be prevented with relatively simple solutions. My colleague James Meinert recently blogged about another worker safety issue in the fracking business that is preventable--exposure to silica dust that can cause silicosis, an irreversible and dangerous disease that causes lung cancer.
If oil and gas companies cannot be trusted to take simple actions to avoid preventible health risks, how can the public trust them with highly technical complex operations like fracking? Here is a photo of a truck accident in Wetzel County, West Virginia -- something that the locals have seen too often:
Photo used with permission, credit Ed Wade, Jr., Wetzel County Action Group