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Highway Accidents Are Top Cause of Oil Field Worker Deaths

In the last few years, Texas and other states have experienced a boom in hydraulic fracturing or fracking. This type of oil and gas drilling has employed hundreds of thousands of people. In the next ten years, more than 200,000 new wells will be drilled that will require supplies, including water and pipeline, to be hauled in by truck drivers. Unfortunately, these workers face one of the most fatal workplace duties in the industry: highway driving.

Between 2003 and 2008, highway truck accidents caused almost a third of the 650 workplace fatalities in the oil field industry. Since 2002, 300 oil field workers have lost their lives in highway crashes. The likely cause of the high fatality rate among oil field drivers and their passengers are two exemptions to the hours-of-service rules regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Truck Driver Fatigue and Hours-of-Service Rules

Fatigue among truck drivers is a leading cause of commercial vehicle accidents in the United States. Tired drivers are less alert and have slower reaction times than rested drivers, and exhausted truck drivers may even fall asleep at the wheel, often with fatal consequences.

Since truck driver fatigue can be deadly, the FMCSA governs how many hours a driver may work in a day and how many consecutive driving hours may be included in a driver’s daily schedule. It also regulates how many rest-breaks truck drivers must take, including overnight time to get sufficient sleep.

Oil Field Exemptions: Deadly Exceptions

Unfortunately, the hours-of-service rules that help most truck drivers stay safe do not apply to oilfield haulers or oil well drivers. A provision in the rules exempts these drivers from daily hours-of-service rules and on-duty time regulations.

  • Employers of oilfield haulers are only required to provide 24 hours of rest after 70 hours on-duty in an eight-day time frame if their drivers haul equipment to supply oilfield operations.
  • Oil well drivers that haul supplies between wells may not be allowed to include time waiting at the well-site as on-duty time. Often, such drivers may wait over 20 hours to unload and may not be allowed to rest before beginning their return drive.

Both situations create unsafe conditions for drivers, frequently leading to accidents

Proposed Rule Changes May Improve Safety

In the wake of the high fatality rates for oilfield truckers, the FMCSA has proposed revisions to its exemptions. The agency would like the 24-hour restart to apply to only those drivers that directly support oil and gas well sites or haul waste away from these sites. It would also like to change the waiting time exception to apply only to trained drivers of trucks designed for good service, not to all truckers that haul away supplies after waiting to unload their trucks.

Oilfield truck drivers face hazardous work conditions every day. If you are injured in an oil field accident, consult a personal injury lawyer experienced with helping workers in the oil industry.