What are some of the dangers faced by oil and gas workers?

Hydraulic fracturing is a major industry in Pennsylvania, but also one that poses serious risks to workers.

Hydraulic fracturing - commonly known as fracking - in the Marcellus Shale region has brought considerable job growth to Pennsylvania. While new jobs are certainly a good thing, it is important to recognize that oil and gas workers at hydraulic fracturing sites routinely face considerable dangers while on the job. The dangers posed to oil and gas employees range from explosions and fires to the long-term health problems caused by exposure to toxic chemicals. Below is a look at the risks oil and gas employees may encounter in Pennsylvania.

Oil and gas deaths

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), according to Safety+Health Magazine, says that between 2003 and 2010 there were 823 worker deaths in the oil and gas extraction industry across the United States. That rate makes oil and gas seven times deadlier to work in than all other industries.

Hydraulic fracturing requires plenty of heavy equipment that can prove hazardous to workers' safety. Vehicle crashes, for example, are a serious concern at these work sites as is getting struck by or caught between heavy equipment that is used on-site. Falls, explosions, and fires are other threats that Pennsylvania oil and gas workers may encounter.

Silica exposure

One threat facing oil and gas workers that may not be as obvious as those described above is exposure to toxic chemicals. As Bloomberg BNA reports, a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that silica concentrations in the air at hydraulic fracturing sites across the U.S., including in Pennsylvania, were above occupational health criteria, sometimes by a significant margin.

Silica exposure can lead to serious health problems, including silicosis. The NIOSH study found that two-thirds of air samples taken from Marcellus sites exceeded the agency's permitted exposure levels. The study also found that oil and gas workers who were at the highest risk of being exposed to high levels of silica were those operating sand movers and transfer belts. NIOSH also says that hydraulic fracturing workers are exposed to high levels of benzene, which is a carcinogen risk.

Workers' compensation

The risks faced by oil and gas workers in Pennsylvania are very real and need to be taken seriously. A serious injury can make it impossible for an employee to return to work for weeks or even months afterwards. Other injuries may cause more long-term health problems that take years to manifest. Regardless of the nature of the injury, workers in the oil and gas industry should reach out to a workers' compensation attorney if they have been hurt on the job. An attorney can help workers understand the claims process and may be able to advise them on compensation they may be able to pursue.