Among workers, risks include both accidents and toxic exposures. On-the-job fatalities from accidents in the oil and gas industry are four to seven times the national average, with contract workers at the highest risk. Occupational safety standards designed to minimize “the consequences of catastrophic releases of toxic, reactive, flammable, or explosive chemicals” in workplaces do not apply to the oil and gas industry due to legal exemptions. Fatality rates among workers in the oil and gas extraction sector in North Dakota were seven times the national fatality rates in this industry, which itself has more deaths from fires and explosions than any other private industry. An increase in workplace deaths has accompanied the fracking boom in West Virginia.


A study from the University of Tennessee found that workers are exposed to hazardous and carcinogenic air pollutants from multiple sources, with chemical storage tanks presenting the highest cancer risk. Benzene has been detected in the urine of well-pad workers in Colorado and Wyoming. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health named oil and gas extraction industry workers among those at risk for silicosis, an incurable lung disease caused by exposure to silica dust, from the silica sand that is used extensively in fracking operations.