Within the oil and gas industry, extraction accounts for 70% of accident-related fatalities. Workers are seven times more likely to be killed in extraction work than in any other job.
Even in non-fatal accidents, injuries tend to be severe. Injured extraction workers spend an average of 24 days off work, which is triple the average of all U.S. industries.
It happens because the work is dangerous, to put it mildly. And even though it’s some of the most hazardous work in the world, the industry’s workforce continues to grow. This makes job site safety a rapidly-expanding issue for oil and gas extraction companies.
Top Extraction Site Hazards
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) tracks the top safety hazards for oil and gas extraction companies. Here are their top hazards, based on fatalities, injuries, and severe workplace accidents.
Despite all the hazards in oil and gas extraction, vehicle collisions remain the top category of worker fatalities and injuries. Workers who aren’t killed often suffer serious, life-altering health issues that may prevent returning to work.
Distance is a major contributor, due to the remote work zones, and variety of vehicles driven may also be a factor, with workers being unfamiliar with vehicle operation. OSHA recommends using its motor vehicle safety training tips and traffic zone scorecard to reduce hazards.
Struck By/Caught Between Zones
Three of every five extraction site fatalities results from someone being pinched between equipment or struck by a falling or moving object. When these critical events occur, a worker is much more likely to die than in other types of accidents, due to the high impact involved.
The most common zones and activities for struck/caught accidents include: cranes, derricks, hoists, slings, well servicing, guy-wires, anchors, slings, and guarded/unguarded machines. Proper head, hand, and body safety gear should be provided in all of these areas.
Explosions, Fires, and Confined Spaces
Flammable vapors and gases are major hazards at extraction sites. A spark from a machine, flame, friction, lightning, or a cigarette can cause a catastrophe in moments. In terms of cost, these disasters are some of the worst for oil and gas companies.
Preventing extraction field fires and explosions is a complex issue, due to the many flammable materials involved. Confined spaces are contributors to this issue, because they contain flammable gases and can cause asphyxiation. OSHA summarizes risks on their fire safety page, and reminds extraction companies that all warning signs should be posted prominently and in multiple languages.
Extraction comes with working on high platforms and equipment, which creates the risk of falls. Common fall zones include raised walking surfaces, masts, drilling platforms, access ladders, manlifts, and vehicle-mounted platforms.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) offers guidelines on fall prevention, especially as it pertains to preventing slips and trips in industrial settings. It’s worth noting that falls can occur even in companies with the best training programs. You usually can’t “train your way out” of falls, because they have more to do with the presence of physical hazards.
Lifting, bending, and reaching causes thousands of injuries at extraction sites. In fact, the risk is so prevalent, it’s often hard for companies and regulators to measure. A worker might minimize their injuries or wait to report them until it’s already severe. Oil and gas companies should follow ergonomic guidelines to minimize risk.
Lines, Equipment, and Machines
Finally, there’s the ever-present risk presented by extraction equipment. The biggest hazards include: high pressure lines, connections, valves, and vessels.
Monitor the age and condition of equipment to reduce risk, because blowouts from cracked and damaged vessels/lines are a major cause of injuries. Replace any missing and faulty machine guards. Observe staff to uncover workarounds that are occurring due to equipment problems.
The best way to monitor extraction site safety issues is to have a comprehensive safety program in place. Safety software can help you keep tabs on all hazards, so you’re instantly aware of issues like broken equipment, missing safety gear, and workers who need extra training.