Transportation is a key part of oil and gas industry work. Equipment, materials, and people must be moved large distances, often into remote areas. This comes with many health and safety hazards.
A study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that half of worker deaths occurred during oil and gas transportation events - not refinery fires and explosions, as the public commonly assumes. Let’s look at the major tasks and hazards of transportation.
In preparation for oil and gas work, equipment must be loaded onto trucks and other transport vehicles. This equipment is often stored in large yards, inside locked facilities, or at the locations of subcontractors, which means there are a variety of environments involved.
During loading, many hazards can be present including: uneven docks and pavement, old and broken equipment, slick surfaces, and improperly stored objects. For example, a trailer might be stored on a surface that isn’t level, causing it to slide and hit a worker.
In the example above, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) would recommend employing spotters to watch as materials are loaded. This person should be wholly freed up for spotting, without distractions, during the loading process.
Loads must be fully secured before transporting. It sounds simple, but it can actually be rather complex. Securing loads uses physics and a thorough knowledge of the weights and tensions involved.
Common hazards found while securing loads include: improperly secured objects, load weight shifts, bound-up energy in straps and binders, excessive tension, sudden striking objects, falling objects, and multiple objects moving multiple directions at once.
Binders, ratchets, and straps must be properly matched by job and load. For example, break-over load binders are not recommended, due to their likelihood of slippage. Ratchet-style binders are preferred in almost all situations.
Transporting Equipment to the Well Site
Roads are perhaps the biggest risk found in oil and gas transportation. This may come as a surprise to people outside the industry, who would assume that an oil derrick is more hazardous than a public street. Not so.
Remember the BLS study cited above, where half of oil and gas worker deaths happened during transportation? One startling fact found in that research was that 75% of those deaths occurred on the highway, between loading and unloading.
The biggest hazards on the roadway are wide loads, narrow bridges, overhead power lines, excessive speed, wide turns, failure to understand road restrictions, and loose soil on well site paths. OSHA strongly recommends appointing a journey manager to chart transportation courses, manage road restrictions, and implement an escort vehicle as necessary.
Unloading equipment at the end of the voyage is even more dangerous than loading it at the beginning. Built-up tension can cause straps to suddenly burst and injure workers. Loads may have shifted, creating the potential for massive falling objects.
Common unloading issues include: slide-and-collapse risks, struck-by/caught-by hazards, winch cables breaking, falling loads, pedestrian traffic, and general confusion over the unloading procedures. Swampers, for example, are at risk of being crushed when heavy loads tip during unloading.
Promoting Safety and Accountability
Transportation safety requires rules and transparency. Here are some best practices:
Establish safety rules. Set clear rules, communicate them to staff, and enforce them. Show that safety is a priority for your organization.
Eliminate penalties for safe behavior. In the past, the oil and gas industry has been guilty of inadvertently penalizing workers for using valuable work time on safety procedures. Give workers the time it takes to double-check things and report problems.
Make employees accountable. Make it clear that your safety procedures are hard-and-fast rules, not easygoing guidelines. Create accountability within your company.
Reduce barriers to reporting. Accountability starts with the ability to efficiently report safety hazards. Consider implementing a software program, which allows quick real-time reporting.
Many oil and gas companies are now using software like FirstHand by Zeteky to facilitate transportation hazard reporting. Request a demo now and see how it could help your operation build a culture of safety.