WILLISTON, N.D. – Before North Dakota oil worker Dustin Payne died last fall, he sent text messages to his girlfriend about safety conditions on the worksite.
“I’m literally going to be welding something that’s full of oil. … Don’t (feel) comfortable welding this at all. Dangerous as (expletive).”
Payne, a 28-year-old Marine Corps veteran from Alabama, died from injuries he suffered last Oct. 3 when a tanker he was welding in Williston exploded.
An investigative report airing Monday on Al Jazeera America featuring interviews with his family and friends shows that Payne had voiced concerns to his employer about safety conditions, and a legal investigator interviewed by “Fault Lines” says the death could have been prevented.
Correspondent Josh Rushing and his team spent six months investigating working conditions in the Bakken, including traveling around the country to interview families of men who died in North Dakota and injured workers who are recovering.
Other findings in the episode, “Death on the Bakken Shale,” include:
– A North Dakota oil worker tells Rushing he has spent as many as 69 hours straight on a job site and has fallen asleep in a crane while operating it. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not regulate how many hours employees work.
– OSHA has nine full-time compliance officers assigned to the Bismarck area office, and some estimates show it would take decades for OSHA to inspect every workplace in North Dakota.
– OSHA fines for oil companies with safety violations are often not substantial enough to be punitive.
Payne’s death is still under investigation by OSHA, Scott Overson, assistant director of the Bismarck area OSHA office, said Friday in an interview with Forum News Service. Payne worked for Nabors Completion and Production Service, Overson said.
Payne’s family learned that he had been asked to weld on a tanker that had contained salt water, a byproduct of oil production that contains hydrocarbons, the “Fault Lines” report says.
“What happened to Dustin unfortunately was very avoidable,” Ross Rolshoven, investigator for Great Plains Claims, says in the episode. “The truck should have been put outside for 24 hours and checked for flammable gas.”
Nabors did not comment for the TV program, and a message seeking comment for Forum News Service was not returned Friday.
The recent report by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations that found North Dakota to have the highest fatality rate in the nation prompted the journalists to investigate the Bakken, Rushing said last week in an interview with Forum News Service.
Understanding the dangers of the working conditions in the Bakken required Rushing and his team to travel around the country to talk to family members and injured workers who are recovering.
“It really became this national story,” Rushing said. “The idea that these workers come from everywhere but there (North Dakota) is very important if the situation is ever to be changed.”
The program airs at 8 p.m. Central Monday, Jan. 12, on Al Jazeera America, which is Channel 158 on Midcontinent. More information is available at the show’s website.