Agencies Issue Alert Concerning Oil Field Injury From Vapor Exposure

Responding to new research indicating that workers who work on or close to production and flowback tanks, OSHA andNIOSH issued a new alert in February concerning health and safety risks from hydrocarbon gas and vapor exposure. Between 2010 and 2014, there were nine fatal oil field injuries from workers sampling or gauging production tanks in oil fields including the Bakken.

Besides exposure to hazardous gas and vapor levels, workers can encounter oxygen-deficient surroundings and flammability risks. In the fatal accidents occurring at crude oil production tanks, workers were either working alone or no other worker was monitoring them. According to the alert, air purifying respirators were ineffective against light hydrocarbon gases and authorities indicated that supplied air respirators are necessary for adequate protection.

In the alert, the agencies listed recommendations for employers in the Bakken and other oil drilling operations to make sure their workers understand the hazards and have protection from exposure. The agencies’ recommendations include:

Improve tank sampling and gauging methods so that workers can monitor fluid levels and sample without opening the tank hatch.

Educate workers about known hazards related to gauging tanks including low oxygen environments, combustibility hazards and the potential for hydrocarbons to reach or exceed Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health Concentrations (IDLH) when workers open thief hatches;

Make sure workers receive training on correct and consistent use of calibrated multi-gas monitors to measure Lower Explosive Limit (LEL) and oxygen concentration.

Mandate that workers not work alone when gauging tanks and working near tanks, thief hatches or other areas where they could potentially encounter process fluids.

Employ respiratory protection when remote gauging is not practical or absent.

Because OSHA will probably use the alert as a basis for issuing General Duty Clause violation under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, regulated companies in the Bakken and elsewhere should review their tank gauging and sampling procedures and modify them correspondingly.

Please contact us to learn about your options after oil field injury in the Bakken.