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Montana-North Dakota kicks off safety stand-down

WARD COUNTY, ND—The Montana-North Dakota chapter of the National Service, Transmission, Exploration, and Production Safety Network (MonDaks STEPS) held its first safety stand down on Feb. 14, 2013. STEPS is a volunteer organization founded in 2003 in South Texas by US Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the oil and gas industry in an attempt to reduce injuries and fatalities. The organization has grown to include 17 independent networks serving 15 oil- and gas-producing states. Eight of the networks have signed formal alliances with OSHA.

The voluntary Stand Down program asked participating producers, operators, and service companies to stop work for a specified period during the weeks between Feb. 14 and March 14 to review safety procedures and to focus on improving overall safety in the workplace.

The kick-off meeting was held in Minot, ND, and featured representatives from OSHA, National STEPS, International Association of Drilling Contractors, as well as producers and operators working in the Bakken region. Nearly 1,100 employees turned out for the event in addition to those who attended via webcast, according to Dustin Austin, chairman of the Mon-Daks chapter and Environment, Health, and Safety director for Summit Energy Services. The event was attended live and was available via webcast. "Several organizations, such as Continental Resources, attended the event company-wide," Austin said.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the fatality rate for oil and gas industries is 28.8 per 100,000 workers, more than 7 times higher than the rate for all other industries. After Texas, North Dakota has the second-highest drilling activity in the US and has the second-highest work-related fatality rate. "During a 3-year period beginning in 2010, half of the fatalities investigated by OSHA in the Bakken region were attributed to the oil and gas industry," said Eric Brooks, OSHA's area director in Bismarck, ND. Sources at OSHA report that 60 work-related fatalities have occurred in the last 3 years, with 30 of those attributed to oil and gas activity.

This is the second of such stand downs, with the first being held in Tulsa, Okla. in June of last year. Both events were followed by a month long process in which companies inspect their worksites providing special attention to items known to have caused fatalities and to look for additional hazards. "The goal is to identify hazards and eliminate them as they are discovered rather than waiting until an incident has occurred," Austin said.

The main goal of the stand down was to disseminate OSHA's information on the fatalities that have occurred in the Bakken. By reviewing how these incidents happened, companies can use these data to inspect their own work sites and mitigate potential risks. "It puts that information in the hands of people who can effect change in the workplace so that these incidents aren't repeated," Austin said.

Public reaction has been mixed, but organizers are banking on awareness as one of the key takeaways from this event. Knowing the high rate of incidents that have occurred in the region is helping workers on the ground understand that accidents do occur. "We need to ensure that we as an industry are paying attention and not becoming complacent," Austin said.

The STEPS program will hold future stand downs throughout the US in a number of high-activity regions.

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