It’s been a busy week here in the oil patch. On Monday and Tuesday, I sat through an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training class (required if I’m going to visit an oil rig) at the local college with 18 others (17 men and one woman) and learned all about the dangers of working in the oil field. Many of the statistics about manual labor jobs are shocking:
- An average of 15 workers die every day from job injuries. There are over 4 million non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses that are reported, and of course, many that aren’t reported.
- Slips, trips and falls account for 15 percent of accidental deaths on the job. According to our teacher Dave, slipping on ice could happen nine months out of the year in North Dakota. “I’ve seen snow every month except July,” he says.
- One worker is electrified on the job every day.
- Fires and explosions kill more than 200 and injure more than 5,000 workers each year.
One danger that few people know about is the frequent exposure oil workers have to the deadly gas called hydrogen sulfide (or H2S), that can accumulate in wells and tanks. The gas is particularly dangerous because it’s colorless, and while it has a rotten egg smell at low, safe levels, in high doses, it paralyses your sense of smell so you sense nothing moments before it kills you.
All oil workers are required to wear monitors that beep if they detect high levels of gas, and in class we had to practice strapping on masks and tanks of breathable air, which would be necessary if we were to ever work in an areas with high levels or rescue someone exposed to the gas. Being one of two girls in the class, my face was too small for the mask to function properly, and air wasn’t able to flow — meaning instant death for me if we were in a real life situation. According to our teacher, I’d be fitted properly if I was working near the gas, but still, maybe this is one reason why so few women work on the oil rigs?
As Dave told us towards the end of class: “This is not a video game. You can’t be like, oops, I died. Let me rewind and try something else. No, you’re dead.”
I give serious props to those workers who risk their lives every day to earn a paycheck.