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October 01, 2013
OSHA forms alliance to protect oil and gas workers
By Emily Scace, Senior Editor, Safety

In Dallas, OSHA has formed a region-wide alliance with the Association of Energy Service Companies (AESC) aimed at protecting workers in the oil and gas well industry. The goal, according to OSHA, is to promote understanding of workplace safety and health and the rights and responsibilities of workers and employers by increasing access to material and knowledge.

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The AESC’s members include professionals in the oil and gas industry including field crews, engineers, manufacturers, and oil and gas producers and operators. Under the current initiative, the AESC plans to work closely with its member companies and OSHA to develop workplace health and safety goals for the oil and gas industry and provide training and outreach materials aimed at helping employers meet these goals. Eric Harbin, OSHA’s deputy regional administrator in Dallas, commented, “OSHA’s relationship with AESC will power new ideas and best practices to help make this industry as safe and healthful as possible.”

The oil and gas industries involve many serious hazards, and workers in these fields experience a higher rate of work-related injuries and illnesses than the national average. In the most recent results from Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), despite a drop in the overall rate of workplace fatalities in the United States, fatalities in the oil and gas industry rose by 23% from 2011 to 2012. In addition to the Dallas-area alliance, OSHA has planned a voluntary oil and gas industry safety stand-down on November 14.

If you’re responsible for the safety of oil and gas workers, the following are some key hazards to be aware of:

  • Vehicle collisions. Although transportation incidents are the overall top cause of work-related fatalities in the United States, oil and gas workers are particularly vulnerable because oil and gas wells are often located in remote locations and long-distance travel is often necessary to reach the sites. Highway vehicle crashes are the leading cause of oil and gas extraction worker fatalities, accounting for nearly 4 in 10 fatalities in the industry.
  • Struck-by, caught-in, and caught-between incidents. Moving vehicles and equipment, falling equipment, and high-pressure lines can put workers at risk of being struck by, caught in, or caught between pieces of machinery or other elements of the worksite. In fact, 3 out of every 5 on-site fatalities in the oil and gas industry are due to these incidents. To protect against these hazards, make sure employees are wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), follow lockout/tagout procedures, use machine guards where appropriate, and use signage throughout the worksite to keep employees out of danger zones where these injuries are likely.
  • Explosions and fires. Flammable vapors and gases can ignite and cause fire or explosion. To prevent this, make sure all flammable liquids and gases are stored and handled properly and keep any potential ignition sources (such as static, electrical energy, open flames, cigarettes, cutting and welding tools, and hot surfaces) away from flammable vapors and combustible materials. Make sure fire extinguishing equipment is immediately available and that one or more employees are trained on its use.
  • Falls. If workers must work on surfaces elevated more than 4 feet above the ground, make sure appropriate fall protection measures are taken. This includes guardrails, hole covers, personal fall arrest systems, and safety nets, as appropriate to the specific conditions. Other fall hazards can include uneven surfaces, open pits, stairs, floor holes, and equipment or materials on the ground.
  • Confined spaces. If workers are required to enter storage tanks, mud pits, excavated areas, or other similar areas, make sure OSHA’s confined space procedures are followed. This includes training for employees authorized to enter permit-required confined spaces; testing of atmospheric conditions inside confined spaces; use of fall protection, rescue, air monitoring, lighting, ventilation, and communication equipment as necessary; and contact with a trained outside attendant during entry operations.
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