Oilfield workers and those working on offshore oil rigs are often subject to physically demanding work and dangerous working conditions. Among other risks, workers often have to handle blow torches and other tools in the presence of flammable chemicals and gases. Constantly maintaining equipment that can require welding or other similar tasks can be very dangerous.
When you add in the rough weather conditions that can sometimes confront these workers, it’s a wonder that more people aren’t regularly suffering catastrophic oilfield injuries.
Here’s a closer look at some of the reasons why so many explosions and fires occur in oilfields and on oil rigs.
OSHA Listing of Work Tools and Tasks That Can Easily Lead to Fires/Explosions
The Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) states that “hot work” involves the use of burning, welding, fire- or spark-producing tools while handling drilling and oil well servicing operations like cutting and welding tasks.
Competent operators and contractors should require workers to carefully test for the presence of flammable gases in the area before they start working to fully protect them from harm. This is wise since far too often, gases can accumulate around fuel tanks, well heads, tank batteries, mud tanks, gas separators, oil treaters, and various enclosed areas.
OSHA Recommendations for Minimizing Oilfield/Oil Rig Fires/Explosions
In the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), OSHA details how many “hot work” tasks should be properly handled. Besides requiring this work to be handled in suitable, open-air locations, there should also be another worker available who can quickly access an appropriate fire extinguisher should a fire develop. In some instances, depending on the nature of the combustible materials involved when a fire extinguisher isn’t the best solution – there should also be the appropriate fire retardant or solution readily available.
OSHA references those who’ve been carefully trained to put out fires in the workplace as “fire watchers.” In addition to properly using a fire extinguisher (or the other materials named above) to put out a fire, these individuals must also be ready to sound the proper alarm, especially when they cannot personally put out the fire. Finally, the fire watchers must remain in the area where “hot work” has just been done for at least a half-hour afterwards — so they can detect any smoldering fires not already seen and then put them out.
Since burns received from oil-related fires are often very severe, operators and contractors must be sure gas detectors are regularly used to monitor the work atmosphere. Those who use the detectors are taught to measure or look for the LEL – or lower explosive level. Work must be stopped – or not even started — when a gas detector finds combustible or flammable gas in the area that’s above 10 percent of the LEL. Before work can then restart or continue, all gas leaks found must be properly repaired and the area retested.
OSHA Regulations Pertaining to Specific “Hot Work” Tasks
- Flammable liquids – 29 CFR 1910.106;
- Welding, cutting, and brazing (general requirements) –29 CFR 1910.252;
- Oxygen-fuel gas welding and cutting 29 CFR 1910.253;
- Arc welding and cutting — 29 CFR 1910.254; and
- Resistance welding – 29 CFR 1910.255
Additional information about all pertinent OSHA standards for drilling operations can be found at the online location set forth below. Other groups that provide useful safety standards for oil well drilling sites include the American Petroleum Institute, the National Fire Protection Association, and the International Association of Drilling Contractors.
This article addresses just some of the significant risks that oilfield and offshore workers deal with on a daily basis in working to provide energy to all of us in our daily lives. Their work and contribution is essential to maintaining a healthy economy.
Should you or someone close to you suffer a serious or catastrophic oilfield injury, be sure to obtain the medical care you need immediately. If you have questions regarding your legal rights, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of John David Hart with your questions. We are happy to provide a free initial consultation at no charge to you so you can learn what steps are available to you to protect your interests.
Mr. Hart has been involved in oilfield injury litigation for over thirty years. This experience, along with his experience in working on onshore and offshore oil rigs, gives him a unique perspective in representing injured workers and their families.
The contact information for the Law Offices of John David Hart is 817 – 870 – 2102. The firm’s website is hartlaw.com. Mr. Hart can be reached at email@example.com.
Online sources include: “General Safety & Health: Hot Work and Welding” set forth on the Oil and Gas Well Drilling and Servicing” eTool pages of OSHA.gov.