Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Pennsylvania oil field deaths rose 300 percent in fracking boom

Many Pittsburgh families may have difficulty collecting benefits or other compensation after a loved one's on-the-job accident or death. Worry over a relative's recovery or grief after a loss understandably takes priority. Families often rely on attorneys to review or handle workers' compensation or injury-related claims.

The hard work and dangers of coaxing natural resources from the ground is nothing new for Pennsylvanians. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 20 deaths among oil-field employees from 2008 to 2012. While 20 workplace fatalities seem like a relatively small number, the statistic represents a 300 percent spike compared to the five previous years.

The increase in deaths coincided with the uptick in hydraulic fracking, a process described by the New York Times as injecting a mixture of water and sand into the earth to break rocks and simultaneously release natural gas. On-land drill and fracking sites are not subject to the same stringent federal safety rules as offshore sites, which industry officials believe is satisfactory. Government regulators are debating whether tougher regulations are needed in light of the rise in fatal work-related accidents.

A Texas A&M University analysis of the oil-field fatalities indicates targeted work training and programs could save more lives than new restrictions. The director of the university's Process Safety Center thinks added rules wouldn't have prevented oil-field deaths by electrocution, gas poisoning and fires in 2012. Additional training among employees might have.

Not all energy-producing states showed fatality increases at oil fields. One of three states where well and drilling deaths declined initiated a program to curb occupational fatalities. The addition of the multi-faceted safety effort may be responsible for driving the state's death rate down by nearly half.

Benefits for worker injuries and deaths are paid largely by workers' compensation insurance. Employers provide the insurance in exchange for liability immunity. An attorney can make sure victims and families receive the maximum benefits allowed.

Source: The Columbus Dispatch, "As fracking grows, so does the number of oil-field worker deaths" Lise Olsen, The Houston Chronicle, May. 11, 2014

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