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High rate of severe injuries in the oil and gas drilling industry

For years, there was an anomaly in the numbers concerning accidents in oil and gas fields. There was a high death rate among workers, but a low injury rate. One would expect there to be some correlation between these, but that's not what the data said. Drilling and fracking companies proudly noted the apparent low injury rate in the industry.

After an OSHA rule change, a new picture emerged

But it turns out that the difference between the fatality rate and the injury rate was due to underreporting on the part of oil and gas companies. Until 2015, drillers had to report only fatalities and "catastrophes", defined as accidents in which three or more employees were hospitalized. That meant that although an individual worker might be severely injured and even hospitalized for weeks, his employer was not required to report the injury to OSHA. That changed in 2015, when OSHA put in place a new rule that required oil and gas drillers to report all injuries that resulted in hospitalization or loss of a body part, not just incidents involving three or more workers. As a result, a dramatically different picture was revealed.

Oil and gas fields have the highest severe injury rate

The data revealed by the change showed that the oil and gas drilling industry had the highest number of severe injuries (except for hospitals, which have a very high number of workers), as well as the highest severe injury rate for the years 2015 to 2016:

Severe Injury Rates (2015-16)


Severe Injuries

Number of workers

Rate per 100,000 workers

Oil and gas drilling




Industrial building construction




Poultry processing




Plastic product manufacturing




Power and communication line construction




Commercial and institutional building construction




The most common injuries in order of frequency were amputation, falls, being struck by objects, and injuries from fires and explosions.

Oil and gas workers who have suffered injuries may be eligible for workers' compensation benefits. They should speak with a knowledgeable attorney if they have questions about a claim, or if they are experiencing difficulty in obtaining benefits.

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