BISMARCK (AP) - Officials are working to reduce worker injuries and deaths in the western North Dakota oil patch, a goal they say will be easier to achieve as workers gain more experience and training.
The oil boom is drawing people from around the country in search of jobs, and an inexperienced workforce usually leads to more injuries, said Dustin Austin, safety consultant with the North Dakota Safety Council and chairman of the oil industry's MonDak Safety Network.
"In North Dakota it's a brand new boom. You're typically going to see more injuries," Austin told The Bismarck Tribune.
From 2007-11, employees who were with a company for less than a year filed about half of all workers' compensation claims in North Dakota but 80 percent of the claims in the oil and gas industry, according to Nick Jolliffe, loss control director for the state Workforce Safety and Insurance agency.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently brought in inspectors from half a dozen states to visit worksites in the oil patch. The inspectors over a month's time conducted 57 investigations, 53 directly related to oil and gas. That is more than half of the oil and gas inspections in the region the previous year.
"The goal was to have a constant field presence at all times covering the Bakken formation as we know it," said OSHA Area Director Eric Brooks. "If we can make a difference there, it makes a huge impact."
The MonDak Safety Network partnered with OSHA earlier this year to host an event called a safety stand-down, in which companies were asked to briefly shut down to conduct safety inspections or training. About 1,800 workers participated, according to Austin.
"Training is one of the best ways to improve safety up here," Austin said. "Education is, I think, one of most important things."
Officials say they are seeing a cultural shift among workers in their concern for safe working environments.
"It's just going to take time to get that on-the-job training," said Safety Council Executive Director Chuck Clairmont.