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Sinner and Murphy: People should reject high workplace death rates

FARGO -- Recently, a North Dakota political blogger attempted to explain the state's workforce injury rates with a classic example of how statistics can be manipulated to obtain a desired outcome.

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FARGO -- Recently, a North Dakota political blogger attempted to explain the state’s workforce injury rates with a classic example of how statistics can be manipulated to obtain a desired outcome.
With statistics chosen to deliver that outcome, the writer denies the main point of HBO’s John Oliver’s recent rant; that North Dakota workers are dying on the job at rates much higher than any other state in our country. The most recent numbers from the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2013 prove just how dangerous North Dakotans have it: with the average worker fatality rate across the United States at 3.4 deaths per 100,000 workers, North Dakota’s rate was 17.7 deaths per 100,000, over five times the national rate and ranking us the worst stated among all 50 states in workers dying on the job.
“Oh, but that’s the oilfield. It’s more dangerous!” We’ve all heard that explanation before, right? But when we compare just the mining and oil extraction sectors, North Dakota’s job fatality rate shoots up to 104 per 100,000, far exceeding the rate of 15.9 per 100,000 in the same job sectors across the U.S. In construction, we suffer 10 times the national average with North Dakota’s fatality rate 97.4 per 100,000, compared to 9.9 on average in the same field.
Many of us might not like Oliver’s portrayal of North Dakota’s workplace fatality rates, but on worker’s injuries and deaths his facts are accurate.
Historically, the Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks jobsite fatalities by comparing the number of worker deaths to the number of people actually working.
This gives results that can be accurately compared across states and occupations. They don’t compare the number of worker deaths to the number of telephone poles being set, the number of houses being built or the amount of oil produced. Those would be meaningless comparisons, as is that blogger’s comparison of worker deaths to spudded oil wells.
Those of us who grew up working on the farm understand how challenging conditions exacerbate the danger of laboring in our state, but glossing over the realities of those dangers gets us no closer to figuring how to do better.
Oliver is a humorist whose piece was hardly exhaustive and certainly did not give a complete picture of how our oil companies and their regulators are struggling to make conditions safer, but let us not deny the kernels of truth that led to it.
Hopefully the current slowdown and more awareness of the dangers will lead us to make North Dakota a much safer place to work.
We are grateful for the economic good fortune North Dakota has experienced but reject the notion that we must accept a high rate of workplace deaths as the price of progress. North Dakotans deserve access to good jobs. And all working people deserve to make it home at the end of the day.
Murphy and Sinner are Democrats in the North Dakota Senate. Murphy, from Portland, represents District 20 and Sinner, from Fargo, represents District 46.

 

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