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OSHA pushes safety across the North Dakota oil fields

WILLISTON, N.D. - The regional administrator for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration urged North Dakota oil and gas operators to take a safety "stand down" seriously and stop fatalities in the oil field.

"The nation's eyes are on you. You really have the opportunity here to make us a leader in oil and gas in the United States, but we don't want to do it at any expense," Gregory Baxter said Thursday. "We need to stop the injuries, illnesses and deaths. No one should lose their life for a day's wage."

Baxter presented from Minot during a three-hour safety discussion that kicked off what the industry calls a safety stand down. Over the next month, companies are asked to shut down operations for a period of time to conduct inspections or provide safety training.

The call for action was prompted by recent deaths in North Dakota's oil and gas industry, which now make up half of all workplace fatalities investigated by the Bismarck area OSHA office, said director Eric Brooks.

The event began with a video highlighting some recent oil field fatalities in North Dakota, from a 22-year-old who fell 75 feet to his death to a 38-year-old who died after an explosion in a boiler to a 52-year-old who died from a fall during a rig move.

Brooks noted there have been two more oil field deaths in North Dakota since he completed the video.

Baxter said he gets questions from Washington, D.C., about why North Dakota has so many fatalities.

"We can stop this terrible loss of life and these serious injuries," Baxter said.

The voluntary stand down is organized by OSHA and the MonDaks Safety Network, a local chapter of the National Service, Transmission, Exploration & Production Safety Network.

Workers participated in the event from Minot as well as centers that aired a webcast in Williston, Dickinson, Stanley and New Town.

Dustin Austin, chairman of the MonDaks Safety Network, said nearly 800 people registered for the event and more participated without registering.

The kickoff event provided resources to help companies conduct inspections and training.

Austin said a main goal of the event was to bring companies together so they can work as a community to address safety issues.

"It will take all of us to improve safety up here," Austin said.