Two More Colorado Oil Worker Deaths Than Previously Calculated

November 10, 2015

A new federal database that was developed to more precisely count the number of deaths in the oil and gas industry shows eight workers died in Colorado in 2014.

The count by the Fatalities in Oil and Gas Extraction, or FOG, is two more than what was tabulated by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics for the same year.

The discrepancy comes from the different methodology used by the National Institute for Occupational Health in putting together its first FOG findings, which were released in September and included the period between Jan. 1, 2014, and June 30, 2014.

“We knew from the Bureau of Labor Statistics data about the basics of what’s killing workers,” Kyla Retzer, an epidemiologist who led the effort to compile the FOG report, said.

However, Retzer said they wanted to also find out the type of operations and what equipment was involved in the deaths.

FOG counted two deaths near a Colorado oil field site in 2014 that the Bureau of Labor Statistics probably would not have classified as oil-field related. Two oil field workers were helping someone change a tire when they were hit and killed by another motorist, Retzer said.

FOG concentrates solely on oil and gas fatalities, while the Bureau of Labor Statistics collects a census of deaths for all industries, Retzer said. FOG also includes categories of oil field-related activities that may be classified differently under the older federal system.

For example, fatalities to sand haulers are put under a non-oil and gas category under the bureau, but they are included in FOG, the Denver-based Retzer said.

FOG also reports heart attacks that begin at a job site, while the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not.

That’s because some workers have been exposed to chemicals or toxic substances that mimic or induce cardiac events, she told The Denver Post.

The FOG idea started two years ago and earned the backing of the oil industry in the hopes of better understanding the dangers of oil field work, she said.

“We just felt we didn’t have enough information on what’s killing these workers and what we need to do to improve their safety and health,” Retzer said.

In all, at least 142 oil and gas workers died nationally in 2014, a 27 percent jump from 2013, when 112 workers died, according to preliminary figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There are indications that oil field work is getting safer as many categories involving injuries are going down, said health and industry officials at the annual Natural Gas Symposium last month at Colorado State University.

So far this year, there have been no reported fatalities in Colorado oil fields.

Many of those improvements are due to the oil industry implementing safety programs that employees take seriously, said Stephen Flaherty, director of state and local government affairs for Halliburton.

That includes the authority to stop work if an employee sees an activity they perceive as too dangerous, Flaherty said.

“We’ve seen double-digit decreases in accidents and injuries,” he said, “because of our safety practices.”

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