Fire is a nightmare scenario for an oil and gas company. Risk of ignition is all around, every day. All it takes is a little too much friction, an unexpected vapor cloud, or a spark from welding and the operation is suddenly engulfed in flames.
Of course, your operation constantly works to prevent this from happening. By following OSHA fire safety recommendations, any oil and gas company can reduce their risks significantly. There are also some industry best practices that limit fire risk. Here’s a summary.
1: Conduct Safety Assessments
OSHA considers fire safety assessments to be the cornerstone of a good fire safety plan. After all, how can you improve if you don’t know where you stand? Conduct thorough, regular safety inspections of every nook and cranny in the operation.
Safety assessments should go beyond examining equipment and storage tanks. They should also observe worker procedures and highlight red flags for fire safety issues.
2: Offer Safety Equipment
Are you absolutely certain that your workers have all the fire safety equipment they need? Missing protective gear is a perpetual safety issue in the oil and gas industry. Gear seems to sprout legs and go walking - a frustrating problem, but all that expensive gear must be replaced.
Check work zones for fixed and portable fire extinguishers, especially in areas with sparks and combustion potential. Safety equipment should not only be available, but clearly marked with signs and arrows for easy access during an emergency.
3: Use Alerts and Alarms
If a fire happens, your workers will need to evacuate immediately. Install fire and gas level alarms, and train employees on what the various sounds mean. A liquid spill alarm might sound very different from a fire alarm. Install loudspeakers that direct employees during an emergency and ensure they reach exits and safe zones.
The same goes for alerts that may crop up while using equipment. If overheating is imminent, for example, an alert may be triggered to appear on an equipment or computer screen. Would your workers recognize the alert and know exactly what to do about it? Make sure they would.
4: Use Gas Detection Equipment
Gases and vapors might be hard to see, but they’re clear explosion and fire risks. They can also poison your employees, even at levels lower than flammability. Monitor gases closely using state-of-the-art detection systems.
If a level of combustible gas surpasses 10% of its lowest explosive level, OSHA considers this to be a critical issue. Ensure that your workers are educated about these kinds of thresholds, and post signs in work areas that serve as constant reminders. Encourage them to stop work and engage safety procedures when they suspect a threshold is being reached.
5: Monitor Flammable Liquids
Just like gases and vapors, liquids are a fire hazard. Your operation’s resource liquids and waste liquids can catch fire. OSHA has issued safety bulletins highlighting the issues presented by bulk transfer of waste liquids, which are sometimes overlooked.
6: Train Employees About Fire Safety
Employee fire safety training is an absolute must for the oil and gas industry. Ensure employees are trained before they ever set foot on an oilfield, because poor training can lead to fires.
Remember, OSHA rules say that if the employee is likely to have better understanding in a language other than English, you should present the training material, as well as all safety signs in the work area, in that language. You don’t want someone to start a fire merely because they don’t understand flammable/inflammable.
7: Reduce Risks Posed by Motors and Vehicles
It’s easy to forget that motor friction and idling engines are a significant fire risk. Oil and gas workers encounter this kind of equipment all day long, so the risk doesn’t seem like a big deal until something terrible happens.
In one disastrous incident, two tankers handling waste liquids were parked within 16 feet of each other with idling engines. A mixed vapor cloud ignited and caused an explosion, killing three people. Prior to this incident, the company hadn’t considered outdoor close-quarters engines as a fire ignition source, and they had to add new safety rules.
The National Steps Network offers free engine fire risk reminder bulletins in Spanish and English that you can download for your workers.
8: Monitor and Reduce Buildup
Buildup presents fire danger at oil and gas operations. Within hoses, tubes, tanks, tankers, and other holding devices, residue can build up to the point that it presents significant fire risk. Some of the danger is in assuming the tank is empty. While it might be empty of significant volume, it could be fully coated in residue.
Who is responsible for monitoring buildup and residues at your company? How often do they check everything, rather than just performing spot checks? These are critical questions that must be answered to limit fire risk.
9: Review Chain of Reporting
Fire safety also starts with a review of your overall chain of safety reporting. Many operations have gaps in communication, like a supervisor who tends to forget to turn in the paper safety cards, or an inspection schedule that’s easily skipped on holidays.
Look for the weak links in your chain that present fire safety risks. Make sure your employees are aware of how these kinds of issues can compromise work site safety.
10: Use a Safety Reporting App
Consider investing in real-time reporting software that keeps fire risk at a minimum. Make it a part of your company culture to spot and report hazards immediately, so workers feel empowered to place a high value on safety.