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Come to North Dakota for the paycheck, lose your life

Is a paycheck worth losing your life for? It may be in North Dakota
The dark underside of the North Dakota oil boom

In some ways, North Dakota's oil boom is the envy of the nation--it's one of the few places where endless traffic jams are regarded as a sign of progress.

The toll in lives, however, is horrific, as a report issued today by the AFL-CIO documents. The state had the highest rate of worker fatalities in the nation--17.7 per 100,000 workers, or more than five times the national average. The union calculated the toll as "one of the highest state job fatality rates ever reported for any state," and observed that it had more than doubled from the rate in 2007. The number of fatalities rose to 65 from 44 the year before. North Dakota's rate is also moving in the opposite direction from the nation as a whole, where job fatalities have been coming steadily down.

The culprit is the oil and gas industry. Oil and gas production is dangerous work, but exceptionally so in North Dakota, where the fatality rate of a stunning 104 per 100,000 workers is more than six times the national rate for oil and gas, 15.9. The AFL says the fatality rate in the state's construction sector, which is also driven by the oil boom, was 97.4 per 100,000, almost 10 times the national rate of 9.9.

This is an aspect of the North Dakota oil boom you don't hear much about. Witness this breathless 2011 report by CNBC's Brian Shactman, who couldn't find time amid his description of incoming workers sleeping in their trucks and McDonald's wages hitting $15 an hour to observe that many of the workers flowing into the state to work the oil fields didn't know what they were doing, and that their employers couldn't make the effort to train them first. The predictable harvest is seen in the AFL's figures.

"It’s an incredibly dangerous industry and needs much more attention," Peg Seminario, the AFL-CIO's director of safety and health, told reporters on a conference call, as reported by Bloomberg. 

 

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