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Most deaths in the oil and gas industry occur once workers leave the oilfield

Zack Ponce | Current-Argus N.M.

HOBBS — Messaging is powerful and the overriding theme of Wednesday’s Southeast New Mexico Oil and Gas Safety Summit in Hobbs sent grown men’s jaws quivering.

A two-minute video shown to an audience of around 400 attendees at the Lea County Event Center stuck chords with many. The point was clear: The overwhelming majority of industry fatalities occur on the roads to and from the oilfields and something must be done.

In the video, a man in his early thirties is sitting in a chair, surrounded by his wife and younger daughter. The family is celebrating the girl’s birthday in their living room while the man is moving his arms to simulate driving home from work.

Instantly the man’s daughter and wife rush to the man after he simulates a crash and is about to be ejected from his seat. His daughter wraps her arms around his waist while his wife does the same around his torso to simulate a seatbelt.

“(That girl) is about to lose her coach, her tutor, her mentor, and for right now at that age, her prince,” said Warren Hubler, the vice president for safety at H&P International Drilling Company. “I see that young mother come out of her chair she holds on for dear life because if he is killed, she is about to lose her financial provider, her emotional provider and her soulmate, the person with whom she wants to grow old. The third thing I see is that glitter: Those are the hopes and dreams of the individual family members and that family unit will be shattered forever because daddy wasn’t buckled up.”

Related: OSHA inspections increase after spike in fatalities

Hubler gave the last of two presentations at the three-hour safety conference. While Hubler said that sleep deprivation and driver inattention are primary causes for the staggering amount of oilfield deaths on the road, he wanted to show the video to emphasize that no precaution should be overlooked and that each death affects many.

“For those of you who choose not to wear your seatbelt 100 percent of the time, I would like to encourage you to find another job. Find another career path,” said Hubler, who by his estimation had spotted roughly 10 percent of the audience members arrive to the conference center without wearing a seatbelt. “It’s not just about you, but your family.”

According to a census of fatal occupational injuries taken by the Oil and Gas Extraction Sector Council from 2003 to 2012, 40 percent of all oil and gas extraction deaths involved a motor vehicle. Of those incidents, 52 percent of motor vehicle deaths involved light vehicles and 79 percent occurred on public highways.

Last year, the oil and gas industry suffered a total of 66 fatalities according to data presented by the state of New Mexico. Of the total, 20 deaths were from accidents logged as “struck by/caught between,” which includes incidents in the oilfield where workers where struck by high pressure valves or pressure line explosions. Nine fatalities occurred from falls and three were from electrical hazards.


Reporter Zack Ponce can be reached at (575) 689-7402.