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Conference highlights progress in workforce safety

Conference highlights progress in workforce safety

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Pat Furr, left, a safety expert with Roco Rescue based in Louisiana, talks in 2017 with Dave Schmidt, an employee with Falkirk Mine near Underwood, about one of the industrial lanyards used for fall protection during the opening day of the 44th annual North Dakota Safety Council conference at the Bismarck Event Center. 

After another year of decreased workplace injuries and fatalities in the state, industry and officials are doubling down on partnerships they say helped improve safety.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, state of North Dakota and the MonDaks Safety Network, made up of oil and gas workers in the region, will sign a five-year extension of a safety alliance formed in early 2015 on Thursday during the North Dakota Safety Council’s Annual Safety & Health Conference. 

This year's conference at the Bismarck Event Center is being attended by about 900 safety professionals across a number of industries. 

Just a few years ago, in the midst of the oil boom, North Dakota suffered from the highest rate of workplace fatalities in the nation. For a six-year period, OSHA Bismarck Area Director Eric Brooks said about half of all the fatalities his agency investigated were in oil and gas. Since crude oil prices have cooled, so has tragedy.

According to statistics from Workforce Safety and Insurance, the agency accepted claims on 36 fatalities in fiscal year 2015, with 18 of them in the oil and gas industry and half of them as a result of traffic accidents, said safety consultant supervisor Jim Ash. For fiscal year 2016, there were 22 fatalities, eight in oil and gas. And, from July 1 to Jan. 31, the agency accepted claims on six fatalities, two in oil and gas, for fiscal year 2017.

WSI Director Bryan Klipfel said injury claims are also anticipated to return to post boom norms, with a projection of 20,500 claims for fiscal year 2017, compared to a high of more than 26,000 in fiscal year 2014.

“We’re using this time to reload,” Brooks said of the slowdown.

In the six years he’s been in Williston, MonDaks President Eric Genet said industry has made a “180 degree” turnaround to a mentality of no job is so urgent to do unsafely.

With 40 percent of injuries and fatalities happening while workers are on the road, MonDaks has formed a Transport and Transmission Committee to address road safety. Genet said they’ve also taken advantage of the downturn in crude prices to work with emergency managers in McKenzie and Williams counties.

Another big initiative was MonDaks focus on atmosphere monitoring on oil and gas well and storage tank sites, Genet said, after a series of workers died from H2S gas exposure around 2013.

“We’re learning a lot more about hydrocarbons,” said Brooks, adding that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health conducted a study using thermal imaging to show how plumes of gas are often released when storage tanks are opened.

Since then, many large oil and gas operators have started issuing four-gas monitors to their employees, Genet said, estimating from 90 percent to 100 percent of the oil and gas workforce is covered by the technology. MonDaks is continuing its efforts, presenting the NIOSH research at its April meeting.

Brooks said these monitors are not required by OSHA’s direct standards but industry has taken it upon itself to make the change.

Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com

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