Safety in the oil and gas industry

Source: Talentegg

Safety does not happen by accident is a popular safety slogan.

‘Accidents in the energy sector affect people’s health, property, supply of economic goods and degrade ecosystems’. Safety is thus a key consideration in the energy sectors’ activities to safeguard life, property and environment.

The operational environment, chemicals and products used in the oil and gas sector (upstream, midstream and downstream) expose personnel to hazards, that may affect their health and safety. It is therefore vital to recognise and control hazards to prevent or mitigate injuries and deaths.

Several of these hazards are listed below;

  • Vehicle Collisions – often due to lack of safety features being placed on the roads leading to well sites. Also as a result of fatigue due to long working shifts and long distances.
  •  Struck-By/ Caught-In/ Caught-Between –  includes workers being struck by, entangled, or crushed by tools, machinery or other objects
  • Explosions and Fires – due to presence of highly combustible hydrocarbons and the presence of oxygen/ignition source
  • Slips, Trips and Falls –  caused by frequent need to work at elevations,  uneven surface and improper use or non-availability of fall protection systems
  • Confined Spaces – defined as spaces with limited opening and exits with unfavourable natural ventilation e.g pipelines, silos, storage tanks.
  • Ergonomic Hazards – due to lifting heavy items, bending, reaching overhead and working in awkward body postures.
  • High Pressure Lines and Equipment – due to compressed gases, leaks or failures in high pressure vessels.
  • Electrical and Other Hazardous Energy – due to uncontrolled electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, or other sources of hazardous energy as a result of improper, design, installation or maintenance .
  • Machine Hazards

In the UK, there are several regulations in place to ensure the health and safety of personnel as well as persons indirectly involved with the processes.

These include;-

  • Health and Safety (HSE) at work Act 1974,
  • Prevention of Fire and Explosion and  Emergency Response on Offshore Installation PFEER(1995),
  • Offshore Safety installation Safety Case,
  • Pipeline Safety regulations (PSR) 1996,
  • Offshore Installations and Pipeline Works Management and Administration 1995,
  • The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992,
  • The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) 1998,
  • The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992,
  • The Manual Handling (Operations) Regulations 1992.

In the US, there is the (OSHA) Occupational Safety and Health Administration NIOSH, American Petroleum Institute Recommended Practice (API RPs), Chemical Safety and Hazards Investigation Board (CSHIB). These cover; –

  • Work zone Traffic Safety
  • Struck-by hazards in the oil and gas industry
  • Blowout prevention equipment systems for drilling operations
  • Control of hazardous energy
  • Safety standards and hazard-control measures associated with compressed gas and equipment
  • safe entry and cleaning of petroleum storage tanks, planning and managing tank entry from decommissioning through recommissioning
  • Hazards associated with performing hot work at oil and gas well sites as well as addressing many other industry related hazards.

Due to complexities in the oil and gas business, a systematic approach is usually employed in managing occupational safety and hazards. The system is usually dubbed the PDCA cycle which involves, Plan Do, Check and Act.

Most companies also have an in-house Major Accident Hazard Management Framework in place which generally aims to Eliminate, Prevent, Detect, Control, Mitigate, Rescue, and Recover.  Such self -regulatory strategies and internal management standards are usually applied as alternatives to formal rules//regulations, but however require government input, support, and monitoring to ensure compliance.

In the UK, Safety Critical Elements are defined in order to prevent or limit the effect of a major accident. Continuous reviews are usually made to regulations and performance standards to keep up with new hazards.  The safety critical elements are deduced from previous safety cases.

It is usually said that many major accidents occur either as a result of people, processes  and plant or a combination of the three thus the MAHs (Major Accident Hazards are usually managed through People, Processes and Plant.

The safety culture ingrained in a company plays also a big role in managing hazards and accidents. It is considered that a poor safety cultures stem from the following;

  • Tolerance of inadequate systems and resources
  • Normalization of deviance
  • Complacency
  • Work pressure

This can be remedied by;

1. Tracking KPIs for monitoring safety performance

2. Maintaining adequate resources for safe operation and maintenance

3. Nurturing and maintain a proper safety culture

4. Ensuring non-essential personnel  are remotely placed from hazardous process areas

5. Keeping Equipment and procedures up-to-date

6. Managing organisational changes to ensure safety is not compromised

7. Analysing and correcting the underlying causes of human errors

8. Ensuring personnel in leadership positions are exercising their duties regarding safety standards

“It should not be necessary for each generation to rediscover principles of process safety which the generation before discovered. We must learn from the experience of others rather than learn the hard way. We must pass on to the next generation a record of what we have learned.” Jesse C. Ducommun


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