Controlling exposures to wellsite hazards is the fundamental method of protecting workers on an oil and gas site. Controlling hazards and exposures is the fundamental method of protecting workers. ANSI/ASSP Z10-2012, Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems, encourages employers to use the following hierarchy of hazard controls:
The idea behind this hierarchy is that the control methods at the top of the list are potentially more effective and protective than those at the bottom. Following the hierarchy normally leads to the implementation of inherently safer systems. The risk of illness or injury should be substantially reduced. Let’s take a closer look at each of the control measures.
The best control measure to control a hazard is to eliminate it. If you don’t have the hazard, you won’t get injured. While elimination is the most effective at reducing hazards, it also tend to be the most difficult to implement in an existing process.
If the oil and gas project is still at the design or development stage, elimination and substitution of hazards may be inexpensive and simple to implement. For an existing process, major changes in equipment and procedures may be required to eliminate or substitute for a hazard.
The next best control measure is to substitute something else in its place that would be non-hazardous or less hazardous to workers. For example, a non-toxic (or less toxic) chemical could be substituted for a hazardous one.
Engineering controls are used to remove a hazard or place a barrier between the worker and the hazard. Well-designed engineering controls can be highly effective in protecting workers and will typically be independent of worker interactions to provide this high level of protection.
The initial cost of engineering controls can be higher than the cost of administrative controls or personal protective equipment, but over the longer term, operating costs are frequently lower, and in some instances, can provide cost savings in other areas of the process. Engineering controls should be designed to make it hard for employees to defeat the controls.
Engineering controls include methods such as:
Warnings promote employee awareness of hazards. They do not prevent exposure to a hazard, but they do provide a visual, audible, and/or tactile indicator to warn people of potential danger. Greater awareness is gained by using signs, alarms, signals, labels, placards, cones, and other methods.
For example, a warning sign might be used to keep workers from entering a confined space. However, warning signs used instead of correcting a hazard that can and should be corrected are not acceptable forms of hazard control.
If engineering controls cannot be implemented, or cannot be implemented right away, administrative controls should be considered. These methods for protecting workers have usually proven to be less effective than elimination, substitution, and engineering controls. Why? Because administrative controls may require significant effort and discipline by the affected workers.
A major weakness inherent in the use of administrative controls is that they work only so long as employees comply with the controls.
Administrative controls involve changes in workplace policies and procedures. They can include such things as:
For example, workers could be rotated in and out of a hot area rather than having to spend eight hours per day in the heat. Back-up alarms are an example of effective warning systems. However, warning signs used instead of correcting a hazard that can and should be corrected are not acceptable forms of hazard control.
PPE is the last resort and least effective means of controlling exposure to hazards because of the high potential for damage to render PPE ineffective. Again, the success of this control measure depends not only on the quality of the PPE, but also the quality of human behavior.
PPE should be used only while other more effective controls are being developed or installed, or if there are no other more effective ways to control the hazard.
This is because:
While there are some jobs, such as removing asbestos, where wearing adequate personal protective equipment is absolutely essential, there are many jobs where employers hand out personal protective equipment when in fact they should be using more effective hazard control methods.
Let’s take a look at some of the programs and processes that will help the company prevent and control typical hazards on an oil and gas wellsite.
Your company should conduct daily wellsite inspections. Hazards should be documented, reviewed, and corrections should be made in a timely manner. More detailed, written inspections should be conducted by a designated person on a weekly or monthly basis.
Your company’s Safety Coordinator or other designated safety person should tour each job site and observe potential safety/health hazards, and develop a plan for safeguarding the workers, which may include the following:
A record of all safety inspections and correctional steps should be kept.
To most effectively prevent future accidents on the wellsite while work is being performed, be sure to investigate and analyze the results of all accidents, including near misses and property damage, occurring at the wellsite. Do not limit your investigations to only those accidents that result in injury.
Investigating non-injury incidents will help prevent similar accidents at the current or future projects. Controlling the hazard that caused a near miss now, can save a life, and a lot of money and time if it helps prevent a future injury accident.
Don't forget to analyze the data from previous investigations and those investigations conducted at other wellsites.
The control of hazardous energy through lockout/tagout procedures assures that you and other employees are protected from unexpected machine motion or release of energy which could cause injury. This includes electricity, water, steam, hydraulic, gravity, and many other sources of stored energy.
All sources of hazardous energy must be shut off, de-energized at the source, and locked-out prior to you or any other employee beginning work around or on the potential hazard.
Analyze the project for the potential for confined spaces. Workers should not enter confined spaces without proper training and management authorization. A confined space is defined as a space that is:
Confined spaces that may have a hazardous atmosphere require special precautions. Hazardous atmospheres are those that may expose employees to the risk of death, incapacitation, and impairment of ability to self-rescue caused by:
For more information on this topic, take Course 713, Confined Space Program or Course 816, Confined Space Safety in Construction.
Each year, falls consistently account for the greatest number of fatalities in the oil and gas industry. A number of factors are often involved in falls, including unstable working surfaces, misuse or failure to use fall protection equipment and human error.
Studies have shown that using guardrails, fall arrest systems, safety nets, covers and restraint systems can prevent many deaths and injuries from falls.
Analyze the project to determine if you will be using:
The primary hazard of trenching and excavation is employee injury from collapse. Soil analysis is important in order to determine appropriate sloping, benching, and shoring.
Additional hazards include working with heavy machinery; manual handling of materials; working in proximity to traffic; electrical hazards from overhead and underground power-lines; and underground utilities, such as natural gas.
Analyze the project for the potential for hazardous chemicals requiring a Hazard Communications Program (HCP) to ensure all workers know about the chemicals that they work with and work around. The HCP involves the following elements.
Note: Your written Hazard Communication program should outline the specific details of the elements listed above.
Many oil and gas workers are unaware of the potential electrical hazards present in their work environment, which makes them more vulnerable to the danger of electrocution.
Experts in electrical safety have traditionally looked toward the widely used National Electrical Code (NEC) for help in the practical safeguarding of persons from these hazards.
Electrical safety in oil and gas involves two primary issues: