CDC: Death by helicopter leading killer for oil and gas workers

Death by helicopter is the leading cause of industrial accidents for oil and gas workers, according to a Center for Disease Control report issued Friday.

While the fiery deaths of the 11 workers killed in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon has been a stark reminder of the dangers of offshore drilling, the transportation required to reach offshore platforms is statistically a much greater danger.

Helicopter accidents accounted for 49 of 128 fatalities from 2003-2010, making up 75 percent of all transportation related deaths for oil and gas workers.

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The fatality rate for oil and gas workers onshore and offshore is seven times higher than that for all U.S. workers, with 27.1 versus 3.8 deaths per 100,000 workers.

Transportation events, which includes all ‘transportation and material moving’ activities, were the leading cause of energy industry worker deaths, making up 51 percent of the total.

Seventeen helicopter events were responsible for these deaths, all of which took place in Gulf of Mexico offshore operations, the report said. Eleven of these accidents were responsible for the fatalities, with five events involving a mechanical failure and bad weather contributing to three accidents. In five of the accidents, nine fatalities involved workers who survived the accident but later drowned.

In five events, a total of nine fatalities involved occupants who survived the initial impact but later drowned. All of the helicopter events occurred in Gulf of Mexico offshore operations.

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The study also noted that while the number of active offshore drilling rigs decreased by 63 percent from 2003 to 2010, the number of annual fatalities during offshore operations remained stable, indicating that the ratio of accidents to worker is actually increasing.

“To reduce fatalities in offshore oil and gas operations, employers should ensure that the most stringent applicable transportation safety guidelines are followed,” advised the Center for Disease Control in the report.

The Centers report used government data from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries for the period 2003–2010 for its findings.