Common Hazards in the Oil and Gas Industry
The 4.3 trillion dollar oil and gas industry provides energy solutions to many enterprises that benefit from its power and products. Yet along with the many advantages of this sector, risk factors can cause long-term harm to employee health, company profits, and the environment.
While regulatory safeguards implemented over the decades have reduced the number of disasters, the potential for accidents is still present. Companies must remain vigilant to protect their employees and mitigate risks.
The following outlines the most common hazards in the oil and gas industry and provides plant managers with smart solutions to ensure safe business operations for employees and facilities.
Explosions and Fires
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recognizes fire hazards in the oil and gas industry as the most common (and significant) risk. Ignition of combustible materials in equipment and pipelines can have massive repercussions, causing injury to personnel and property damage.
Furthermore, volatile chemicals, gasses, and electrical hazards in the oil and gas industry produce violent and dangerous reactions when exposed to heat sources or open flames, potentially resulting in explosions that cause death.
So, to mitigate this hazard, employers must develop and implement appropriate engineering controls and operating procedures to reduce the risk of fire and explosions by:
- Scheduling regular checks of equipment
- Installing fire-rated walls and floors
- Ensuring adequate ventilation for hazardous gasses
- Storing combustible materials in approved containers or designated storage areas
- Providing appropriate respiratory, eye, and hearing protection when needed
- Implementing lifesaving alert systems
- Ensuring prompt response to possible fires or explosions
- Develop and run drills of an emergency evacuation plan
These strategies offer the best chances of reducing the risk of fire and explosions, thereby avoiding costly lawsuits and fines, plant shutdown, loss of life, and adverse environmental repercussions.
Falls are the most common workplace accident in the United States, and this danger is especially pronounced in oil and gas operations. Workers can easily slip, trip, or fall while performing various tasks, such as climbing ladders, working on scaffolding, operating heavy machinery, and navigating hazardous terrain.
And it isn’t just faulty or unstable equipment that can cause a fall; a worker may also lose balance due to fatigue, poor lighting, or wet surfaces from spills and equipment leaks.
With the majority of falls in the industry resulting in serious injury that affects the individual’s ability to work and, therefore, the company’s ability to operate, employers must prioritize fall prevention by:
- Investing in anti-slip surfaces and safety nets
- Using harnesses on elevated platforms
- Providing proper footwear and appropriate protective clothing
- Developing standard operating procedures (SOPs) to ensure safe working conditions
- Adequately training workers on the hazards of their job
- Performing regular inspections to ensure that the plant meets all safety requirements
- Conducting regular safety drills and evaluations
- Implementing an emergency response plan in the event of a fall
Implementing these steps ensures oil and gas companies can reduce the potential for falls and create a safer workplace for employees.
Routine cleaning of tanks used in the production of oil and gas products can pose a unique hazard because of the confined space associated with these operations. Confined spaces are areas that have limited access and exit, inadequate ventilation, and hazardous atmospheres.
Without proper safety protocols, workers could suffer from exposure to fumes or gasses, asphyxiation due to lack of air or oxygen deprivation, or severe physical harm due to the confined space itself.
Though many companies have developed safety protocols and procedures for working in confined spaces, these areas still pose a continued risk of harm to workers and equipment.
As such, plant managers should seriously consider utilizing robotic cleaning systems to reduce the risks associated with confined space environments as they:
- Provide a safe method of entering and exiting the confined space
- Reduce worker exposure to chemical hazards in the oil and gas industry
- Allow for remote operation of cleaning equipment
- Limit physical contact with the walls of the tank
- Provide access to hard-to-reach areas
Due to the incredibly dangerous nature of this particular hazard, facility managers must learn everything they can about confined space hazards in the oil and gas industry to ensure the plant is a safe and productive workplace.
Unguarded machines or those with wide-reaching components can present a significant safety risk to employees in oil and gas production facilities as they are at risk of coming into direct contact with moving parts or being crushed under heavy machinery.
In addition to crushed limbs, head injuries, and amputations, machine hazards also risk harm to the actual equipment—destabilization from unintended contact results in costly repair bills.
However, plant managers can easily avoid machine hazards by employing strategies such as:
- Regular checking of the integrity of guards and safety barriers
- Installing warning signs around potentially dangerous equipment
- Training operators on the proper use of machines
- Conducting regular inspections to detect any potential hazards
- Ensuring that workers are aware of the risks associated with using unguarded machinery
By implementing these and other OSHA-recommended strategies, oil and gas facilities can provide worker safety while maintaining the efficient functioning of their machines.
Not every hazard in the oil and gas industry is directly related to the equipment or processes involved in production. Many physical hazards also create danger for workers, including but not limited to vehicle collisions, falling objects, slips and trips, and ergonomic injuries from lifting and carrying.
Minimizing these risks requires proactive steps from plant managers, such as:
- Creating an up-to-date traffic plan for the facility
- Using conveyors and other equipment to reduce manual lifting requirements
- Maintaining a clean working environment free of debris or obstructions
- Enforcing the use of protective equipment such as safety glasses and gloves
- Providing training on proper lifting techniques to reduce strain
- Ensuring that all workers are aware of potential hazards and how to avoid them
In many cases, physical hazards are also avoidable with robots capable of carrying out tasks that previously required manual labor, thus reducing the risk of injury and increasing overall productivity.
Create a Safety Plan
The best way to avoid the common hazards in the oil and gas industry that lead to injury, death, litigation, and environmental damage is to create a comprehensive safety plan. This plan should include:
- Clear guidelines for each stage of the production process
- Enforceable regulations for both workers and management
- Emergency preparedness training for staff at every operational level
With a solid safety plan, plant managers ensure employees are safe from common hazards in the oil and gas industry while reducing the risk of extreme damage to their facility and the environment.