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Safety in Oil and Gas Industry: Common Hazards & Prevention

Occupational safety is a key concern in any line of work, but especially so in high-risk industries such as the energy sector. Oil and gas workers face a host of potential dangers in their work environment, like falling equipment and hazardous chemicals.

With a higher possibility of being struck by hazards, workplace safety becomes all the more crucial — organisations should place the well-being of their workers at the heart of their culture and values.

In an interview with McKinsey & Company, Bernadette Spinoy — then senior vice president of health, safety, and environment (HSE) from the major global oil and gas player Total—talks about how inculcating a collective mindset in which workers choose the right behaviour even when no one is watching can lead to a successful safety culture transformation.

To encourage this collective behaviour, this article will cover 5 ways on how safety can be achieved in the oil and gas industry.

Safety Hazards and Risks in Oil and Gas Industry

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), these are just a few of the many workplace hazards that can occur in the oil and gas extraction industry.

1. Falls

Workers often must work from elevated platforms or equipment. This poses a risk of slips, trips, and falls that could cause serious bodily harm. Accessing these places via a ladder, would thus require more precautions to safely guide workers. Vigilance and proper safety training are essential.

2. Confined Spaces

Workers often must work within confined spaces, where there is a higher risk of health hazards such as asphyxiation or exposure to toxic chemicals. The ignition of flammable vapours or gases is also a possibility, in the event of small or narrow areas which would position workers directly in the danger zone.

3. Machine Hazards

Oil and gas extraction involves working with or around dangerous machinery. Workers could get struck by or caught between unguarded machines, which may result in cuts, burns, or other serious injuries. This is why routine checks and regular machine maintenance are important, as well as alertness to one’s surroundings in high-risk areas.

4. Explosions & Fires

The ignition of flammable gases or vapours can also result in explosions or fires, which can wreak damage on a large scale in such a hazardous environment. Some causes include electrical energy sources, open flames, and frictional heat. High-pressure lines may also leak or burst if not properly maintained.

5. Physical Strain

Oil and gas extraction is a physically demanding job that, even with the surplus of machines, often requires manual labour. Certain tasks, such as the lifting of heavy loads or equipment, can continuously exert a strain on workers’ bodies over time. Poor workplace ergonomics negatively affects safety in this area and can increase the risk of injury.


Tips to Prevent and Reduce Hazards in Oil and Gas Industry

While safety risks cannot be completely eliminated, they can be significantly reduced through awareness of potential hazards and how they can be avoided. Use these 5 safety tips to help improve worksite safety.

Tip #1 Establish Good Safety Culture

Workplace safety culture is a collective set of values and attitudes towards safety, which goes beyond the individual to the overall safety of the organisation. This sense of solidarity would encourage workers to obey rules and communicate hazards to keep themselves and their fellow workers safe.

A good safety culture begins with strong leadership, as workers would feel more reassured knowing that their well-being is being cared for from the top down. Aside from having processes that are tailored to your company, it is important that these are clearly stated and reinforced in the worksite

Not only does this ensure that safety precautions are observed, it will also give workers added peace of mind knowing the processes are in place for their occupational safety. Furthermore, the mental health of workers will go a long way in keeping them vigilant and alert on the job.

Tip #2 Learn to Embrace Automation & Digitalisation

While there are manual steps that can be taken to ensure overall safety, such as installing safety signs or having highly visible floor marking, we live in an age where technology can provide useful tools for detecting and minimising hazards.

SOL-X solutions provide valuable data and leading indicators through AI and IIoT. SOL-X is a management system focused on behavioural safety. By collating data on risk assessment and permits within the work environment, it provides real-time data to increase worker situational awareness, enhancing both safety and efficiency.

Through smart wearables and AI technology, SOL-X solution addresses human factors — the most common cause of workplace accidents such as inaccurate fatigue management. By tracking conditions such as heat stress levels, heart rate trends, and work rest hours, it also helps workers monitor their symptoms to ensure that they are physically fit for the tasks at hand.

Tip #3 Use the Process Safety Approach

The International Association of Oil & Gas Producers (IOGP) defines the Process Safety approach as the safe management of oil and gas operations and processes, with the aim of preventing hazardous emissions or structural failures that could lead to more severe consequences.

While the traditional approach to accident prevention is based on trial and error, Process Safety attempts to identify trends and so more accurately predict events based on probability. The implementation of relevant safety precautions can thus protect workers from situations that can be easily avoided.

According to the IOGP, there were 56 process safety events between 2007 and 2017 that led to 128 deaths. Combined with safety management systems like SOL-X and culture programmes, having process safety will greatly reduce the occurrence of oil and gas hazards.

Tip #4 Communicate with Emergency Response Organisations

Although prevention should always come first, unforeseen events may still occur from time to time. In such cases, a quick response could save a life. It is thus important for oil and gas companies to maintain good communication with their local emergency response community.

This includes emergency responders and health professionals who will be able to take action and help minimise the consequences in the event of an accident. Developing a collaborative relationship with these organisations can also be beneficial to the workers by increasing awareness of emergency and safety equipment.

Tip #5 Having Consistent Maintenance Activities & Safety Programmes

As with anything, consistency is key. Conducting regular maintenance checks and occupational safety training programmes can help to reinforce safety messages, especially for new workers entering a company. Since the job is highly focused on working with various equipment, routine maintenance is also mandatory to prevent premature machine failure.

Risks and hazards can look different from day to day, especially if a project begins that requires working with new materials or equipment. By encouraging consistent training, this also ensures that workers are prepared for any situation that may come their way.

Adapted from: https://magellanx.co/safety-in-oil-and-gas/#:~:text=Occupational%20safety%20is%20a%20key,falling%20equipment%20and%20hazardous%20chemicals.

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