Fracking Work Is Risky Business

Natural gas extraction (fracking) isn't only risky for the environment, it's dangerous for workers.

As the AFL-CIO, Mine Workers of America and Steelworkers of America said in a new letter to federal regulators, working in oil and fracking is risky business. On-the-ground employees in this industry are over seven times more likely to die in a work-related accident. Between 2003-2009, there were 27.75 deaths per 100,000 workers. 

The health risks posed to workers are present at multiple steps in the fracking process. In order to extract the natural gas, silica sand is mixed with water and chemical additives. Workers and machines then drill into the shale rock and inject the sand and water mixture under very high pressure. Massive quantities of sand are used and workers are at risk of high levels of exposure during multiple points of the fracking process. 

This kind of exposure to silica puts humans at risk of developing crippling conditions, including silicosis and lung cancer. To make matters worse, the fracking industry is adding new jobs (though not as many as they would like to believe), which in turn exposes increasingly inexperienced workers to these risks. 

In the letter, these major unions urges the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Mine Safety and Health Administration to take immediate action and issue a joint “hazard alert” that identifies the occupational safety and health hazards in the fracking industry, with a special focus on silica exposures. 

There is precedent for federal intervention to help Americans suffering from silica poisoning. In 2000, Congress included compensation of silicosis victims on Federal nuclear testing sites in the Energy Employees' Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000.

Fracking is no doubt a dicey political issue. Federal regulators should set aside any other controversies surrounding fracking and act to protect the industry workers from preventable harm.