Bakken Work Injury Potential High Around Oil Tanks

Tank gauging is a potentially hazardous activity that has taken the lives of a number of American workers in recent years. Sometimes, opening the thief hatch of a storage tank results in a rapid release of highly concentrated hydrocarbon vapor/gas. Concentrations may behigh enough to ignite in the presence of any kind of spark. Vapors and gases may suddenly deprive a tank worker of oxygen, resulting in loss of consciousness and even death.

However, tank gauging, fluid handling and thieving in the Bakken are all activities which can be completed in a safe manner given the right precautions.

Hazards Workers Face

Workers that must open hatches on oil tanks face a number of potential hazards, including, but not limited to, sudden oxygen deficiency, fires & explosions and chemical toxicity.

Sudden oxygen deficiency - As a hatch is opened, accumulated gases and vapors in an oil tank may suddenly displace the air above, and a worker may be deprived of the oxygen needed to properly breathe.

Fires and explosions - The presence of such vapors may lead to explosions set off by sparks from seemingly innocent sources:

  • Cell phones
  • Static electricity
  • Sparks from metal objects
  • Improperly grounded items
  • Non-approved electrical devices
  • Open flames

Chemical toxicity - Workers involved in tank gauging may be overcome by toxic hydrocarbon vapors, including propane, butane, benzene and hydrogen sulfide (H2S). Tank gauging and other oil workers suffering toxic chemical exposure chemical exposure may experience a wide array of symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Eye irritation
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular breathing or heartbeat
  • Dizziness
  • Burns from flash fires
  • Chronic illness
  • Death

Tank workers and others who work in proximity to hydrocarbon gases should stop a job and ask for guidance if safety questions arise. A worker has a right to stop any work that is unsafe. Both employer and employee benefit from worker attendance at hazard communication training.

The above information was gleaned from an infographic, “Tank Gauging Hazard Alert,” produced by the National STEPS Network, an alliance of industry businesses, organizations and educational institutions.

If you or a family member suffers an oil tank or other workplace accident, our firm makes it possible to speak with a work injury lawyer free of charge. To learn more, please contact us.