Filling a Critical Need for Training

A recent NIOSH study found workers from small companies and from well servicing companies are at greatest risk of dying in a motor vehicle crash.

A study published in the March 2013 issue of Accident Analysis & Prevention caught the eye of Martin Glenday, president of Moxie Media, and his colleagues at the New Orleans-based company that produces training materials, including materials for oil & gas workers. They already were working on two new safe driving programs, including a fluid truck operation and rollover prevention training program and a second program focused on general oilfield driving safety for workers in the well servicing industry. These are DVD programs divided into several modules and accompanied by an instructor resource kit. They're designed to be shown by an instructor in a classroom and also are available as interactive online courses for students to take individually.

In their study, NIOSH's Kyla D. Retzer, Ryan D. Hill, and Stephanie G. Pratt analyzed motor vehicle fatalities in the oil & gas extraction industry using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI). They identified 202 oil & gas extraction workers who died in work-related motor vehicle crashes from 2003 to 2009 and calculated the motor vehicle fatality rate for workers in the industry was 8.5 times higher than the rate for all private wage and salary workers (7.6 vs. 0.9). Workers from small oil & gas establishments and workers from well servicing companies were at greatest risk of dying in a crash, they reported, and pickup trucks were the type of vehicle most frequently driven by workers involved in fatal crashes.

"Those stats are really interesting and a little disturbing. That's definitely something that prompted our work on these projects," said Robert Davis, lead script writer for the two safe driving training programs. "It just jumps off the page. They divided oilfield companies into three categories. For two of the three categories, highway crash is the leading cause of fatal accidents, and then for the whole industry, pretty substantially it's the number one cause of fatalities."

He said while the public's perception may be that oilfield jobs are by nature dangerous, in reality the chief driving hazards are issues that most drivers face. "Often they have pretty long commutes to the workplace, and of course they use the highways a lot for transporting materials in fluid trucks. So they’re putting themselves in some difficult positions. But it's got to be a huge point of emphasis for the industry."

Speed, fatigue, and distractions such as cell phone use are top concerns for managers at companies in the industry, he said.

Covering All Bases

Hydraulic fracturing operations in many parts of the country rely on a huge number of fluid trucks to move drilling materials and wastewater. "You have this incredible surge in the number of these fluid trucks that are out there and are being driven in all parts of the country, from Pennsylvania to Texas to North Dakota and everywhere in between," Glenday said.

The drivers' training also must cover hazardous materials, HAZWOPER, placarding, and hazmat spills because most of them are transporting petroleum byproducts, he added.

Many companies in the industry have been training their drivers with PowerPoint presentations or videos but have struggled to convey all of the needed information, said Chris Plaeger, an account manager for Moxie Media who works in Houston. He and Glenday said three oil & gas companies have partnered with Moxie, sharing information about their best practices and allowing Moxie to film some of their drivers in action. Some are using its learning management system to manage the complicated training process, Plaeger said. "There's going to be an interactive assessment. It's all about making sure that all the knowledge is retained and just finding a much more efficient [training delivery] and a greater impact from the training that's being given. They see e-learning as just a great platform for that.

"[Driving safety is] an enormous concern," he added. "It's not that it's not being fully addressed, it's just that there are not a lot of oil & gas-specific driving safety training programs out there."

Some companies have extensive training programs that put drivers through a week of classroom training and then another week either riding along with an experienced driver or driving with a veteran driver in the cab to observe. "As you know the high turnover rate within the industry, you have so many guys coming through, you put them through all this training and then all of a sudden they quit the next day. They're looking to figure out a way to efficiently and adequately train these employees and at the same time make sure that it's not all for naught when they quit," Plaeger said.

Glenday and Plaeger were scheduled to give a driving safety presentation on June 18 at a meeting of the Greater Houston STEPS Network (www.greaterhoustonsteps.com), which is one of several regional energy exploration and production safety networks (visit www.nationalstepsnetwork.org for more information).

Transportation events also are a leading cause of fatal work injuries in the offshore oil & gas sector. A CDC analysis of CFOI data from 2003-2010 identified 128 fatal work injuries in offshore operations, with 65 of them (51 percent of the total) related to transportation, including 49 in helicopter crashes -- all of which involved in Gulf of Mexico offshore operations. This study was published in the April 26, 2013, issue (vol. 62, no. 16) of MMWR.

Stability Concerns
"Tanker trucks are interesting because just by design, they're not the most stable vehicles. They tend to be top-heavy, especially when they have loads that aren't full of fluids," Davis said. "It creates this slosh and surge effect, particularly when they're banking. When they're on a curve or a highway ramp, for instance, they can be pretty unstable. I know one thing I was reading said there have been cases of fatal rollover accidents occurring where the tanker truck was going about five miles an hour."

Fluid truck drivers also have a limited ability to take evasive action to avoid a collision because of the stability factor, he said.

Davis said most tanker truck accidents occur on straight roads. "The main issues are fatigue, distraction -- the same issues that drivers generally face," he said, adding that the training programs contain modules specifically about fatigue, rough terrain and unmarked roads, and nighttime driving.

Glenday said he visited Midland, Texas, recently, and the night he was there, a head-on collision of two trucks killed all four oilfield service workers in the vehicles. "It's the same -- working in remote areas, working late nights, speed. Those are the things," he said. "The driving component of it, it's amazing how many people will highlight policies, JSAs, and all of this, but nobody thinks twice about, in the middle of the night, jumping in a truck and driving for 10 hours.

"Usually, before they drive anywhere, they've worked a 12-hour shift before they take off. And on the other side, if they're going to come to work, they've probably played right up until the end before they head to work."

He said these training programs are not the only tool that drivers should be using to become fluid truck qualified. Lots of hands-on experience is required, and the best way to gain that experience is through a mentoring process, Glenday said.

This article originally appeared in the July 2013 OHS issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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