How to detect safety hazards in the oil and gas industry

Oil and gas well drilling and servicing can be dangerous. It involves many types of equipment and materials, and recognizing and working to minimize the hazards is critical.

Employers need to control or eliminate occupational injuries, illnesses and fatalities among workers by being aware of likely safety risks, and most importantly making planning and prevention part of the everyday culture, says Taylor Troiano, area vice president at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

Smart Business spoke with Troiano about the biggest hazards of the oil and gas industry and what employers can do about these concerns.

What do oil and gas industry employers find to be the biggest safety risks?

Three of every five on-site fatalities in the oil and gas extraction industry are the result of struck-by, caught-in or caught-between hazards, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) database. These can come from moving vehicles or equipment, falling equipment and high-pressure lines.

The risk of fire and explosion is another concern for workers in the oil and gas industry. Flammable gases, such as well gases, vapors and hydrogen sulfide, can be released from wells, trucks, production equipment or surface equipment. They can ignite by static, electrical energy sources, open flames, lightning, cigarettes, cutting and welding tools, hot surfaces or frictional heat.

In addition, workers are often required to enter confined spaces such as petroleum and other storage tanks, mud pits, reserve pits and other excavated areas, sand storage containers and other confined spaces around a wellhead. These confined spaces can ignite flammable vapors or gases, or cause asphyxiation and exposure to hazardous chemicals. Confined spaces that contain or could contain a serious atmospheric hazard must be classified as permit required, tested prior to entry and continuously monitored.

How should drilling and servicing companies plan for and prevent these hazards?

Each drilling and servicing company should have its own safety program, which can be developed with help from your insurance broker/risk manager. For process-specific and task-specific hazards and controls, OSHA has an Oil and Gas Well Drilling and Servicing eTool that may prove helpful. It identifies common hazards and possible solutions to reduce incidents that could lead to injuries or deaths.

Oil and gas companies need to regularly evaluate worksite hazards and find solutions to minimize those. They should establish ways to protect workers, including developing and implementing safe practices for:

  • Confined space; excavations.
  • Chemical handling; exposure.
  • Chemical storage.
  • Electrical work.
  • Emergency response.
  • Equipment/machine hazards.
  • Fall protection.
  • Fire protection.
  • Hot work, welding, flame cutting operations.
  • Personal protective equipment use.
  • Power sources (lockout/tagout provisions, safe distance from power lines).
  • Working in the heat, long shifts.

If a worker points out a hazard, respond and correct it quickly. Educate, train and retrain your workers about the site hazards to promote worksite safety and awareness. For example, workers need to be aware of the swing radius of tongs and/or a spinning chain on a drilling rig floor. Lines and hoses need to be properly secured with whip-checks and connections that aren’t worn. If a pipe is being moved, a properly attached tag line can keep loads from shifting or falling suddenly — workers need to take the time to set one up before a lift. While working at heights, tail ropes can keep tools from falling on workers below.

When engineering controls alone cannot protect worker overexposure to chemicals, noise or other hazards, the employer must provide personal protective equipment. In addition, don’t forget to make a plan for contractor safety and training.

Insights Insurance/Risk Management is brought to you by Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.