Burden, Need, and Impact

There were over 420,000 workers employed in the oil and gas extraction industry in 2016. During 2003–2016, 1,485 oil and gas extraction workers were killed on the job, resulting in an annual fatality rate more than six times higher than the rate among all U.S. workers. Several subgroups of workers have been found to be at even greater risk of being killed on the job – contractors, workers employed by small companies, and short service employees. Risks associated with chemical hazards have not been fully characterized.

To help protect these workers, NIOSH strives to maximize its impact in occupational safety and health. The Oil and Gas Extraction Program identifies priorities to guide its investments in research, basing those priorities on the evidence of burden, need, and impact.

The NIOSH Oil and Gas Extraction Program establishes burden and need through surveillance data and statistics and stakeholder input. Surveillance data show how workers are being killed, injured, or impaired. Customers and stakeholders identify their needs and the value of our products and services, and we communicate with our stakeholders regularly to better understand those needs. We conduct research to identify and control safety and health hazards and evaluate intervention effectiveness. We then use an external peer-review process to evaluate our research products and to enhance the impact of our work.

Burden, need, and impact for priority Oil and Gas Extraction Program areas are detailed below.

During 2003–2016, 1,485 oil and gas extraction workers were killed on the job, resulting in an annual fatality rate more than six times higher than the rate among all U.S. workers.1 More than two-thirds of all worker fatalities in the industry were the result of transportation events (42%) and contact with objects and equipment (25%). Fires and explosions (14%), exposure to harmful substances and environments (9%) and falls (8%) were the next most frequent events during this time period. Previous NIOSH research identified three groups of workers at greatest risk of being killed on the job:

Workers employed by contractors are three to four times more likely to be killed on the job than workers employed by oil and gas operating companies. Well servicing companies have the highest fatality rates — more than four times higher than the rate among oil and gas operating companies (22.2 and 5.1 per 100,000, respectively).2

Workers employed by small companies (<20 employees) are five times as likely to be killed on the job as workers employed by large companies (100 employees). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 19.3% of the workers in the oil and gas exploration and production industry were employed by a small company during the first quarter of 2018.3

Short service employees (those employees with less than one year of experience with their current employer) account for more than half of all fatalities in the industry.4

Need

NIOSH is the only federal entity responsible for conducting research and developing recommendations to prevent work-related injuries in the oil and gas extraction industry. The occupational fatality rate in the oil and gas extraction industry can be reduced through focused research and surveillance efforts by NIOSH and its partners. There is a need for enhanced surveillance to better identify risk factors for fatal and non-fatal injuries research to evaluate intervention strategies to reduce occupational risks in the industry. Available data, previous NIOSH research, and information collected from stakeholders have all identified the need for focused research in this industry. The continued development of a robust oil and gas database at NIOSH can help to identify additional risk factors associated with working in this industry.

NIOSH holds several key advantages for performing this work or undertaking projects in partnership with extramural partners: (1) NIOSH has established effective collaboration with stakeholders via the NORA Oil and Gas Extraction Sector Council and through an OSHA Alliance; and (2) NIOSH has the equipment, experienced researchers, protocols, and scientific integrity to complete this work.

Impact

The potential for NIOSH research to generate new knowledge that will be used by stakeholders to improve safety and health in this industry is high. In addition to strong collaborative relationships with the industry and industry trade associations, NIOSH  research is disseminated widely through an OSHA Alliance formed with OSHA and the National STEPS Network (a network of regional oil and gas safety and health professionals). The most recent example is a hazard alert on tank fatalities that was distributed to over 100,000 oil and gas employers, workers and companies in the U.S. and abroad. All of these partnerships increase the potential for NIOSH to have an impact on worker safety and health in the oil and gas extraction industry.


  1. BLS [2016]. Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/iif/oshcfoi1.htmExternal
  2. Hill RD, Conway GA, Somervell PD [2009]. Injury risk among oil and gas extraction workers by company type and size. Paper presented at 2009 Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) Americas E&P Environmental & Safety Conference, 23-25 March 2009, San Antonio, Texas. Richardson, TX, Paper No. 121056-MS.
  3. BLS [2018]. Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/cew/External
  4. Retzer K, Hill R, Conway G. [2011]. Mortality Statistics for the US Upstream Industry: An Analysis of Circumstances, Trends, and Recommendations. Paper presented at 20011 Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) Americas E&P Environmental & Safety Conferece, 21-23 March, Houston, TX. Paper No. 141602

Burden

Transportation incidents were the leading cause of death among oil and gas extraction workers during 2003-2016, accounting for 42% of all fatalities. A study examining transportation incidents during 2003-2009 found that the majority (80%) of these incidents were motor vehicle crashes, and the largest proportion of workers who died (51.5%) were occupants of light-duty vehicles (e.g. pickup trucks).1 The same study found that the lack of seatbelt use was a contributing factor in at least half of the motor vehicle fatalities in the oil and gas extraction industry.2

Commuting long distances to and between well sites, along with long work hours and consecutive shifts, may place oil and gas extraction workers at increased risk of being involved in a fatigue-related crash.

Need

While rates of work-related injuries and fatalities in the U.S. are usually calculated based on annual employment estimates, they should ideally be based on measures of exposure such as vehicle miles traveled or hours of driving. No such data exist for work-related driving in general or for the oil and gas extraction industry specifically. There is a need for additional research to evaluate the efficacy of existing technologies and practices to reduce motor vehicle crashes and fatalities in the oil and gas extraction industry. In-vehicle monitoring systems (IVMS), for example, are widely used in the industry, yet very little research has been published examining their effectiveness in improving driver performance and reducing motor vehicle crashes and fatalities.

Impact

NIOSH maintains effective partnerships with key stakeholders who have disseminated and adopted previous NIOSH motor vehicle safety outputs. The Oil and Gas Extraction Program also maintains a close partnership with the NIOSH Center for Motor Vehicle Safety.


  1. BLS [2016]. Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, https://www.bls.gov/iif/oshcfoi1.htmExternal
  2. Retzer KD, Hill RD, Pratt SG [2013]. Motor vehicle fatalities among oil and gas extraction workers. Accident Analysis and Prevention. 51:168-174

Burden

NIOSH scientists have conducted field studies in this industry since 2010 and have identified several significant exposure hazards to this workforce including respirable crystalline silica during hydraulic fracturing and hydrocarbon gases and vapors during manual tank gauging and fluid transfer operations.

Need

While field research studies are ongoing, much more work remains to fully characterize risks for chemical hazards to workers in the oil and gas extraction industry; significant knowledge gaps remain including risks for mixed chemical and mineral exposures, exposure to radionuclides, and risks for dermal exposures. There are few peer-reviewed scientific papers detailing chemical exposures to workers involved in U.S. onshore oil and gas extraction. Data from scientifically valid industry-wide exposure assessment studies that further elucidate the extent of potential exposures is also needed.

NIOSH researchers were the first to identify and evaluate controls for respirable crystalline silica and propose controls to reduce hydrocarbon exposures associated with manual tank gauging and thieving. While NIOSH has published its research results1 on controls for respirable crystalline silica (i.e., NIOSH mini baghouse retrofit assembly), research on the effectiveness of other controls is scant and is needed to show evidence of the effectiveness (of lack thereof) of proposed controls not only for silica but also hydrocarbon vapors and diesel exhaust emissions.

NIOSH holds several key advantages for performing this work or undertaking projects in partnership with extramural partners including access to workers and worksites through formal partnerships with oil and gas companies; effective collaboration with stakeholders via the NORA Oil and Gas Extraction Sector Council and through an OSHA AllianceExternal; and NIOSH has the equipment, experienced researchers, protocols, and scientific integrity to complete this work.

Impact

In response to NIOSH’s silica study, the industry formed a national workgroup to discuss the study’s findings and recommendations. This workgroup has identified and promoted strategies to reduce silica exposures to workers. This workgroup continues to meet to address new and emerging safety and health issues in the industry and will continue to be a resource for disseminating NIOSH’s health hazard and control technology research.


  1. Alexander BM, Esswein EJ, Gressel MG, Kratzer JL, Feng HA, King B, Miller AL, Cauda E [2016]. The development and testing of a prototype mini-baghouse to control the release of respirable crystalline silica from sand movers. J Occup Environ Hyg 2Aug; 13(8):628-638.

Burden

During 2003–2016, 1,485 oil and gas extraction workers were killed on the job, resulting in an annual fatality rate more than six times higher than the rate among all U.S. workers.1

Need

NIOSH has developed the only national database to collect detailed information on worker fatalities related to oil and gas extraction, called Fatalities in Oil and Gas Extraction or FOG. This pilot project has been very successful and has already produced a report and helped to identify a previously unrecognized hazard related to suspected inhalation deaths to workers involved in tank gauging, sampling and fluid transfer activities at oil and gas wellsites.

To prevent fatal injuries in the oil and gas extraction industry, research is needed to: 1) identify and describe risk factors associated with fatal injuries, including those that may be industry or task-specific; 2) to identify and implement interventions to prevent fatal injuries; and 3) to evaluate those interventions to build an evidence base. In this industry, intervention and translational research are critical for reducing fatalities.

Impact

Several oil and gas-producing states have agreed to work with NIOSH to improve surveillance in this industry by sharing the documents that they collect when a worker is fatally injured. The NORA Oil and Gas Extraction Council members are extremely supportive of this effort; improved surveillance is a priority of the council, members have shared information about fatal events, and they helped to disseminate the first surveillance report.

The potential for NIOSH research to generate new knowledge that will be used by stakeholders to improve safety and health in this industry is high. NIOSH maintains effective partnerships with key stakeholders who have adopted and disseminated previous research outputs. Members of the NORA Oil and Gas Extraction Sector Council have helped to disseminate NIOSH research throughout the industry.


  1. BLS [2016]. Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/iif/oshcfoi1.htmExternal
Page last reviewed: November 30, 2018, 12:00 AM