Shocking increase in traffic fatalities in North Dakota oil field region


Although there are still plenty of wide open spaces in North Dakota, there's been a steep and shocking rise in roadway fatalities there that coincides with the oil boom in North Dakota.

The Associated Press reports that in the state's drilling regions, traffic fatalities increased a whopping 350 percent over the past decade. The population there has risen by 43 percent.

The story said other regions with an increase in oil and natural gas drilling experienced a similar jump in crash deaths. The story blames the hike on "the sudden influx of trucks used for drilling and other traffic running through communities that have not had time to prepare for it. Many towns and small cities have not been able to upgrade roads or add traffic lights and new enforcement personnel fast enough to keep up with the boom."

Other factors behind the increase include the relative youth and inexperience of workers who come to booming regions who work as truckers. They are "often young men, the riskiest driving demographic." The story adds that motorists often get impatient while following big trucks and take dangerous risks, such as passing on hills or curves.

Last week, North Dakota's ValleyNewsLive reported that North Dakota ranked number one in workplace deaths in 2012, with the most deaths per capita. North Dakota had 65 workers who died on the job. By contrast, Minnesota had 70 deaths in the same time period.

"Minnesota is a much larger state with many workers working in a sense what it does show is how far North Dakota has fallen with keeping the work places safe," said AFL-CIO Labor Council President Mark Froemke, who represents union members in 11 North Dakota and seven Minnesota counties. "We have not kept up with safety, OSHA, inspections that need to be taken care of to make sure worker can come home safe."

The Associated Press adds that the workplace data comes from an AFL-CIO report, which noted that North Dakota's 2012 rate is one of the highest observed since the federation began issuing reports on worker fatalities more than 20 years ago. North Dakota counted 12.4 deaths per 100,000 employees; the national worker fatality rate was 3.5 deaths per 100,000 employees.

On May 1, UpstreamOnline, which tracks employment in the oil and gas industry, reported that a worker at Continental Resources was found dead at a well site five miles south of Williston. OSHA is investigating the death. The worker, identified as 20-year-old Zach Buckles, had worked as a flow tester for Black Gold Testing, which Continental had contracted for work at its well site.

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