We don’t and shouldn’t welcome the news that more people are dying on the job (erm, while working is perhaps less amenable to teenage smuttery) in North Dakota than were doing so some years ago. However, it is rather important to work out why this is happening rather than just blaming it all on neoliberalism or the idea that no one cares about the working man. Sadly, people are failing to do that:
Life is cheap in North Dakota, where a new study (PDF) finds that workers are being killed on the job at five times the national rate. Deaths on the job in North Dakota more than doubled from 2007 to 2012, rising from 25 to 65, as reported by Al Jazeera America’s Renee Lewis. The reasons for this are deeply disturbing for what they say not only about industrial workplace safety, but about politics in 21st century America and how capital is favored over workers. The increase in deaths tracks the frenzied efforts to extract oil and natural gas from the rich Bakken fields, believed to hold more than $1 trillion in carbon-based fuels. There is so much money to be made quickly that companies are not even waiting for adequate infrastructure to move all the natural gas to market. Blaming the rising death toll on the oil companies, however, misses the real problem, which lies squarely with our elected officials.
And off he goes to blame those elected officials for not hring enough workplace inspectors and for, in general, just not giving a damn for these masses being killed.
Except there’s something we should take note of here. We know that North Dakota is in the grip of a massive oil boom. And we also know that the oil industry as a whole, where ever it is based, has a higher death rate than most other industries. In fact, if we look at that PDF report that is being referred to, on page 49 we are told that oil and gas extraction has a death rate per 100,000 workers of some 16 pa. As opposed to one of 3.4 for the economy in general. Thus, if some 200,000 or so people had moved from other work into the oil and gas extraction industries then we would have explained that entire rise in the working death rate.
Nothing at all to do with political cowardice or malfeasance, simply a structural change in the make up of the workforce.
It’s still entirely possible that the politicians of North Dakota are ignorant of their duties and incapable of carrying out those they do understand: no reason why the politicians of that fair State should be any different from politicians elsewhere. But we must always remain alert to the reasons why things happen, not just to noting that they do. Has the working death rate risen considerably in North Dakota? Most certainly, it has. And this is exactly what we would expect to happen when we see a large scale movement of labour into an industry notably more dangerous than those that preceeded it. It would be far far worse if he mocement had been into logging (129 deaths per 100,000) or fishing (120) and we would see a fall if everyone went off into educational and health servicres (0.7 per 100,000).
Working out why things have happened is better than just kicking out at the usual targets.