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Industry group focuses on road safety - Odessa American: Roads

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Industry group focuses on road safety

Driver fatigue, congestion cited as hazards

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Posted: Thursday, June 9, 2016 5:59 pm

Local oil and gas company representatives met Thursday to plan better transportation safety practices with a goal of curbing the leading cause of death in the industry.

Nationwide, work deaths among workers in the oil and gas industry exceed the national average for all industries by about seven times. And nearly half of the deaths in the oil and gas industry were from fatal transportation crashes from 2011 through 2014, mostly on roadways, Kyla Retzer said. Retzer is an epidemiologist within the Oil and Gas Safety and Health Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

That only accounts for workers killed, she said, not other people who die in the wrecks. And it doesn’t factor in workers killed in crashes on their way to or from work, meaning the amount of people who die in oil- and gas-related traffic accidents is likely higher.

“We’ve got to do more,” Retzer said.

Driver fatigue is a major problem that companies could better address by setting stricter limits on how long drivers can work than what state law requires, providing rest areas at work sites, monitoring light vehicles like trucks in addition to semis and holding subcontractors to better account. About 56 percent of the oil workers who died on the job while driving on state roadways were from service companies, many of them small.

Pressures on workers to drive tired stem from a number of sources, Retzer said.

Among them is the practice of oil companies trying to avoid stalling a project of calling in crews early until they are needed to perform their particular well service. Others include pressure from employers or co-workers to work for too long and too often without rest, payment structures that factor in miles driven and loads and a lack of rest facilities in isolated areas.

Areas like the Permian Basin saw a surge in fatal traffic accidents during the most recent boom, but the problem continues in today’s bust.

The free session Thursday at Midland County’s Horseshoe Arena, “Working Together for Safer Roads,” was organized by the Permian Road Safety Coalition, a local oil and gas industry group.

“While things are improving, don’t walk out of here thinking we’ve got it covered,” said Dolores Vick, a spokeswoman for Chevron and an organizer of the event. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”

Cpl. Dina Ortiz with the Texas Department of Public Safety in Midland called for more training of truck drivers. One of the most common causes of fatal accidents is speeding, a problem made worse by congestion as some drivers become impatient and break the law or take risks, Ortiz said.

Fatal crashes in West Texas investigated by the DPS peaked at the end of 2014 and waned somewhat since oil prices fell, according to figures Ortiz presented.

“We were really busy with crashes — crash to crash to crash to crash,” Ortiz said. “And what I noticed working the crashes is our roads are very congested.”

She said the department struggles from a staffing shortage in the area that makes greater enforcement difficult.

On Wednesday, top transportation officials met in Midland to outline a proposed program that would spend up to $1.8 billion on road improvements in energy production areas such as the Permian Basin during a period of about five years. Another $1.25 billion would be spent on lower priority projects over about eight years.

The Texas Transportation Commission is expected to vote on the program in August, which would supplement other transportation funding to focus on improving major corridors.

The Permian Basin’s share would be about $676 million chiefly for road upkeep but also projects like added passing lanes. Roads included U.S. routes 285 and 385 and State Highway 158. The region accounts for just more than 1 percent of the state’s population but about 12 percent of the traffic deaths, transportation officials said at the meeting.

To cut down on major crashes, TxDOT lowered the speed limit from 75 mph to 65 mph on a nearly 38-mile stretch of the highway, including Midland and Odessa.

Randy Hopmann, TxDOT’s director of district operations, told an attendee during the Wednesday meeting state law makes lowering speed limits a cumbersome process. The speed limit reduction on I-20 speed came after a year-long study and public requests.

But the subject came up again Thursday. Bart Nylin, Shell’s lead in the United States for road transportation safety based in Houston, suggested a need for better assessing the best speed limit based on how Permian Basin roads are used and designed.

“It just seems like reducing speed limits on two lane highways seems like low-hanging fruit and an opportunity to reduce fatalities,” Nylin said. “. . . 75 miles an hour on (Highway) 285 just seems extravagant in this area. And it just seems like a no brainer to me, but it’s such a challenge to get these speeds reduced.”

Odessa, TX

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