The oil and gas industry poses significant threats to worker safety in numerous ways – the toxicity of the oil, the hazards of working with heavy machinery, and the risk of fires and explosions, to name a few. From 2003 to 2010, workers died on the job at a rate that was seven times greater than the rate for all U.S. industries. In this time period, 823 oil and gas workers suffered fatal job-related injuries. Despite enhanced Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) regulations for the oil and gas industry, oil field workers still face exposure to significant health risks while on the clock.
Oil Field Vehicle Accidents
Most fatal injuries result from transportation accidents; particularly when workers have to drive from one work site to another. Drivers often traverse dangerous rural back roads. Fatigue and drowsy driving are significant issues in the oil and gas industry, where workers often work long shifts. When groups of workers pile into one vehicle with a drowsy driver, it can result in multiple deaths. Data shows that about four out of every 10 workers killed on the job in the oil field industry die in highway vehicle accidents.
Today, some oil field companies have installed driver performance monitors in vehicles to track the number of times a driver speeds, swerves, or slams on his/her brakes. Monitoring driver behavior may help reduce the number of oil field worker truck accidents. OSHA has also issued multiple motor vehicle safety worksheets and programs for oil field workers.
Struck-By, Caught-In, Caught-Between
According to OSHA, three out of five on-site deaths in the oil extraction industry result from workers getting struck-by, caught-in, or caught-between objects. Oil field workers work with moving vehicles and heavy equipment, as well as dangerous high-pressure lines. Cranes, derricks, and hoists all pose a threat to worker safety, as do well servicing structures and drilling equipment. Personal protection gear such as the correct foot and headwear may help workers stay safe from these hazards.
Fires and Explosions
Deadly fires and explosions are relatively rare in the oil and gas industry due to stringent safety regulations, but when they do occur, they are extremely deadly. The vapors and fumes of oil are flammable, as are the well gases and hydrogen sulfide wells, trucks, and equipment may produce. Electrical sources, cigarettes, open flames, welding tools, hot surfaces, lightning, and static may all ignite these fumes, causing a devastating fire or explosion. Crude oil vapors can ignite a flash fire, causing widespread burn injury and casualties. Oil field workers may avoid serious injury by wearing flame-resistant clothing, carefully handling flammable liquids, and learning emergency fire safety techniques.
Falls on Oil Fields
Oil field workers operate on high platforms and equipment located hundreds of feet above the ground, such as drilling platforms and masts. Falls from great heights can easily be fatal. If a worker survives a bad fall, he or she will most likely suffer some kind of head, neck, back, or brain injury, as well as broken bones. Workers can prevent falls by following the safety requirements for personal fall arrest systems, as well as avoiding sources of slip, trip, and fall accidents.
Toxic Chemical Exposures
The very nature of the oil and gas industry involves dealing with toxic chemicals and dangerous fumes. Oil field workers encounter toxic fumes every day in the field, putting them at high risk for serious health conditions related to chemical inhalation. Hydraulic fracturing oil field work exposes workers to silica, a naturally occurring mineral that can cause lung problems when inhaled. The rise in hydraulic fracking may lead to an increase in silica-related illnesses such as lung disease. With the proper employee training and OSHA-approved safety gear, workers can avoid chemical-related illnesses.