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Oil & Gas

Health and safety is a priority in the oil and gas industry, and has been for many years.

Oil and gas workers exposed to chemicals produced and used in oil and gas industry may suffer occupational diseases of lungs, skin and other organs depending on the concentration of exposure and length of exposure time. Another hazard that could threaten an individual’s health when working in the oil and gas industry is excessive noise – this is dependant on volume and exposure and could lead to noise-induced hearing loss.

What is an Exposure control plan (ECP)?

Employers in the oil and gas industry should develop and conduct a written exposure control plan (ECP) whenever your workers may be exposed too much to chemical hazards, including drilling fluids, hydrogen sulphide, silica, diesel exhaust and mercury.

An effective ECP gives a detailed approach to record all incidents accurately, protect individuals against chemical exposures, to assist with compliancy of health hazard information, to provide safe working procedures, individual training and refreshing courses.

What is Hydrogen Sulphide?

Hydrogen sulphide is found in oil and natural gas deposits and can be found in some mineral rocks. Oil and gas workers can find Hydrogen sulphide in oil and natural gas wells, refineries and pipelines that carry unrefined petroleum.

Hydrogen sulphide is a highly toxic gas which is colourless and has a rotten egg smell. This gas can irritate the lungs, throat, nose and eyes.

High concentration levels of Hydrogen sulphide can cause poisoning quickly with little warning. A worker not wearing protective equipment may quickly pass out. The body may tremble, and death may occur in seconds or minutes due to breathing failure. First aid must be administered immediately after exposure.

If a Hydrogen sulphide leak happens, the area must be evacuated. Only workers wearing proper protective equipment may enter the site to correct the problem.

Employers must develop and carry out effective plans of evacuation/ rescue and exposure control, including training for workers and supervisors. These control measures can be measured by a Portable Gas Monitor or a Fixed Gas Detection System (dependant on the site and many other additional factors).

The positive regarding Fixed Gas Detection systems within this industry is that they can be calibrated to detect gas and the detection system can be programmed to trigger ventilation systems to dissipate any concentrations of toxic gases which mitigates any additional and unwanted exposure.

What Are The Risks Of Drilling Fluids?

During drilling, a high volume of drilling fluids is poured through the well and into systems that are open, partially enclosed or completely enclosed at high temperatures. When drilling fluid is heated and agitated workers may suffer significant exposure and negative health effects.

The effects comprise of dizziness, drowsiness, headaches, nausea, dermatitis and sensitisation due to repeated skin contact with drilling fluids.

Additionally, exposure to oil mists can induce irritation and inflammation of respiratory system. Some refined base oils have also related to cancer relating diseases which are triggered by inhalation of compounds in oil mists.

Workers spending a considerable portion of their shifts in the below areas may be exposed significantly to hydrocarbons and oil mists:

  • Drilling floor

  • Mud pits/tanks (in which treated drilling fluids are retained before pumping to drill hole)

  • Shale shakers (Drill cuttings are shaken from drilling fluids that return from drill hole)

  • Chemical mixing station/room

What Is Silica? What Are The Risks?

Silica is base component of sand and rock. Some typical silica-containing materials include:

  • Concrete, mortar, cement

  • Granite, sand, topsoil, fill dirt

  • Bitumen (containing stone or rock)

  • Abrasive for blasting

  • Hydraulic fracturing sand (Contains up to 99% silica) Prolonged breathing of fine crystalline silica dust will cause silicosis disease. The particles are deposited in lungs, leading to thickening and scarring of lung tissue.

Initially, individuals with silicosis may have no symptoms though, when the disease progresses, they may suffer breath shortness, severe cough and weakness. Those symptoms can become worse over time and can lead to death. Crystalline silica exposure has also been associated with lung cancer.

Workers carrying out the below activities are at risk of breathing the silica dust:

  • Abrasive blasting using silica-containing products

  • Drilling using dry product additive that contain quartz

  • Cementing operations

  • Shale dryer maintenance (dry particulate may comprise quartz)

  • Hydraulic fracturing (loading, unloading, moving or storing sand)

  • Sweeping or moving sand or gravel that contains silica

When using a Portable Gas Monitor to detect silica we would recommend you purchase a Filtered Portable Gas Monitor this is because the silica creates a coating that covers the sensor and instrument. Over time this can cause permanently damage which stops the sensors from detecting gas, this increases the risk of exposure due to the individual being under the impression they are actively monitoring for silica.

What is Mercury? What are the Risks?

Mercury is a natural component of oil and gas, and may have high concentrations in some formations. The mercy can be released from geological deposits by heat and pressure, and then migrated to oil and gas traps as a vapour. When those gas reservoirs are produced and processed fluids are cooled, the liquid mercury can condense in heat exchangers, separators, coolers, valves and piping. When such equipment (component made from aluminum alloys or magnesium) is disassembled for maintenance or repair, employees can be exposed to mecury vapour. Working activities that may put workers at risk of exposing to mercury in gas processing facilities include:

  • Welding, grinding, buffing, and polishing

  • Vessel cleaning

  • Hydro excavating

  • Machining

  • Pipefitting

  • Installing and removing components or infrastructure

  • Electrical work

Long term exposure to high concentration of mercury vapour does harm to the central nervous system and can induce tremors, stupor, nervousness, personality changes, vision and hearing problems. Contact with mercury can also impact kidneys and lead to irritation and skin and eye burns.

Exposure Control Plans

Employers must implement a hazardous materials survey and risk assessment for mercury at facilities to limit workers' exposure to this occupational health hazard. This information is required to be kept on site and communicated to contractors that will perform work at those locations. Also, employers must develop and carry out an effective written ECP for mercury. To assist with monitoring the effectiveness of an ECP, data tracking and record management we would recommend either a Fixed Gas Detection system or a Portable Gas Monitor, this would be dependant on a wide range of variables.

Some of these variables include number of individuals in each speculated exposure area, the desired objective of the system or instrument and the type of detection, maintenance and management required.

A failure to carefully consider each variable may lead to Safety Monitoring Instrumentation being used incorrectly and ineffectively.

Lack of due diligence or misinformation could lead to detectors being incorrectly installed or positioned on site, this could lead to unrecognised high-risk areas, where detectors could be used. In addition the wrong type of detection in high risk areas could result in incorrect data logging and no indication of toxic exposure to individuals.

Poor maintenance is another factor when considering detection accuracy and performance of Fixed Gas Detection systems and Portable Gas Monitors.

An unmaintained instrument or system is worse than no instrument or system- and that's the truth!!

Lack of maintenance could also cause the system to stop monitoring effectively leading to increased risk. This could cause a reliance on ineffective detectors and increase the risk to individuals as the toxins remain undetected.

"I think I may need Safety Instrumentation Monitoring, but I don’t know anything about it!"

You don’t need to understand Safety Instrumentation Monitoring to be safe at work! If you are unsure whether you need a monitor, please call one of the team on the below number.

Call The Team: 01489 326031

You cannot create the need for Safety Instrumentation, the need is either there or isn’t – that why the best way to make sure you are keeping yourself and your own team as safe as possible is to give one of our experienced team members a call! You can speak to us about your site and our team will be able to advise you based off extensive working knowledge, existing and pre-existing clients/projects and industry specific hazards. Our team remain informed in the world of Safety Instrumentation so that we can provide up to date advice in line with best practices. This means whenever you speak to our team you know you are receiving updated support from people who care.

"Our work should enrich our lives, not cost them" - Alex Graft (Managing Director)
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