Recognizing The Signs Of Workplace Injury From Hydrocarbon Gas And Vapor Exposure

In the Bakken and other gas and oil drilling regions, it is important that emergency responders and health care professionals recognize and treat the symptoms of workplace injury from exposure to high concentrations of hydrocarbon gas and vapors and oxygen-deficient atmospheres. Non-fatal warning signs include confusion, dizziness and collapse.

OSHA requires that employers in the Bakken minimize or eliminate hazards by accommodating safer fluid collection points, by remotely monitoring fluid levels, conducting training on proper use of gas monitors, providing approved respiratory protection equipment and making sure workers at risk of hydrocarbon gas and vapor exposure do not work alone. External defibrillators at work sites are also important to prevent sudden cardiac death from toxic exposure to hydrocarbon gas and vapors and oxygen-depleted atmospheres.

Physicians and experts from OSHA and NIOSH examined OSHA case files, the database, NIOSH Fatalities in Oil and Gas and media reports to ascertain worker fatalities from inhalation of hydrocarbon gas and vapors (HGV) in oil and gas extraction operations. The researchers looked at fatalities from January 2010 to March 2015 where workers were carrying out tank sampling, gauging or fluid transfer tasks at oil and gas wells; were working near a concentrated HGV source such as an open hatch; had no exposure to hydrogen sulfide, fires or explosions and were not working in a confined space.

After reviewing OSHA investigations, gas monitor and exposure assessment data and toxicology and coroner reports, researchers identified nine deaths. Three occurred in the North Dakota Bakken, three in Colorado and the rest in Texas, Montana and Oklahoma. The fatalities occurred when the victims were working alone either collecting fluid samples or tank gauging.

In only one case was a victim wearing a provided respirator but the respirator was not rated for high HGV concentration or depleted oxygen environments nor was the respirator fit-tested. Please contact us if you have incurred a workplace injury in the Bakken.