According to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, in 2016 there are currently between 150,000 and 160,000 people employed in oil & gas extraction in the United States. The most common careers in the energy & oil industry include geoscientists; petroleum engineers; petroleum pump system operators, refinery operators, and gaugers; roustabouts (oil and gas); and wellhead pumpers.
According to OSHA, 489 oil and gas extraction workers were killed on the job between 2013 and 2017, making this a pretty dangerous industry.
In this article, we'll review a few of the primary job hazards involved in oil and gas extraction and give you some tips and resources for training in the oil and gas industry.
OSHA lists the following as the most common causes of fatalities that occurred during oil and gas extraction work processes:
For additional information on preventing occupational fatalities at work, see this article on Preventing Fatalities, this article on using Risk Management to Reduce Occupational SIFs, and download this free guide to using risk management for occupational safety and health.
In addition to the hazards commonly associated with fatalities in the industry listed above, OSHA also lists the following as common hazards in oil & gas extraction:
Let's take a closer look at each of the hazards listed above.
It's common that oil & gas extraction workers and equipment need to be transported to well sites that are quite remote. And likewise, this need for transportation often leads to motor vehicle accidents and fatalities. In fact, OSHA notes that just around 40% of fatalities in this industry are from highway vehicle incidents.
To reduce these fatalities (as well as injuries), check OSHA's Motor Vehicle Safety webpage; NIOSH's Motor Vehicle Safety webpage; these tips on prevention strategies re: work-related roadway crashes from CDC & NIOSH; and this NIOSH fact sheet to help oil & gas workers avoid fatigued driving at work.
Remember that common causes of these accidents include fatigue, use of drugs and alcohol, unsafe driving, and driving in poor climate conditions.
Struck-by/caught-in/caught between hazards are a major cause of fatalities in the oil and gas industries.
Sources of these hazards include moving vehicles, mobile equipment, falling equipment, and high-pressure lines (which we'll discuss again a little further down this list).
You may find the following materials helpful in identifying and mitigating these hazards:
The presence of flammable and/or combustible vapors and gases and numerous potential ignition sources make explosions and fires a real concern in oil and gas extraction.
Prevention begins with knowing the flammable/combustible qualities of the materials being extracted and/or worked with, and continue to understanding the potential of tools and equipment to cause ignition.
Here are some useful resources for hazard ID and control:
Falls are a significant cause of fatalities in all workplaces in the US, and that's no different in energy & oil extraction, especially when workers have to get on platforms and other equipment located high above the ground.
Some of the best ways to avoid falls in this work environment include re-engineering the work some working at heights is not required; using fall prevention & protection properly; and making sure workers are aware of the fall hazards and controls.
To help with this, you may find our Fall Prevention & Protection Toolbox Talk Checklist helpful.
In addition, check out OSHA's Fall Protection Safety and Health Topics webpage; this NIOSH Fall Injuries Prevention document; and this CDC publication, Occupational Fatalities Resulting from Falls in the Oil and Gas Extraction Industry.
There are many confined spaces in the oil and gas extraction industry, and workers often enter them: storage tanks, mud pits, reserve pits, sand storage containers, and more.
These confined spaces bring with them a multitude of hazards & risks, including ignition, asphyxiation, and hazardous chemical exposure.
In many cases, OSHA requires confined spaces be entered only with a permit (permit-required confined space). In these cases, the atmosphere must be tested in advance and monitored continuously during the entry.
Here are some additional useful resources for working around and in confined spaces in the oil and gas industry:
Workers in the oil and gas industry face many of the same types of ergonomic hazards that workers in other fields that require heavy physical labor face. These include MSDS-injury risks form lifting, bending, and reaching; from pushing and pulling heavy objects; from working in awkward body postures; and from repeated motions and tasks.
In many cases, these ergonomic hazards can be reduced easily enough by making use of the right tools, placing materials appropriately to reduce strain, training workers about the hazards, encouraging workers to quickly report symptoms, and performing pre-task planning.
The following OSHA and NIOSH documents provide guidance on recognizing and controlling these hazards:
Compressed gases and high-pressure lines are common in the oil and gas industry. These bring with them a range of hazards, especially if they're improperly used, stored, handled, maintained, or inspected. For example, high-pressure lines can corrode, leading to leaks or bursts that can harm workers. Likewise, the connections between lines can also fail, causing the line to flail and creating struck-by injuries in addition to exposure risks.
Here are some useful resources for working safely around high-pressure lines and equipment in the oil and gas industry:
Here are some helpful resources for identifying and controlling sources of hazardous uncontrolled energy:
Always remember that uncontrolled energy sources are a potentially deadly hazard.
Workers in the oil and gas industry work with and/or near a wide variety of machines with moving parts that present struck-by and caught-between hazards, especially if they're unguarded (during normal operations or during maintenance).
Proper machine guarding is key, and so is training to alert workers to the hazards and teach them safe ways to work near this machinery.
Here are some helpful materials for identifying and controlling these hazards:
Of course, in all aspects of occupational safety, it pays to plan and prepare before performing hazardous work.
One way to do this is to perform a pre-task pre-mortem (or something similar, such as a Before Action Review). Of course, a job hazard analysis is also a great thing to do (download our free JHA Guide).
It also pays to do planning on a scope that looks beyond specific job tasks, including creating and putting into effect safe work procedures for the following (many of which are required for OSHA compliance anyway):
Of course, its always important to provide proper safety training to workers, teaching them about the hazards at their worksite and teaching them to identify hazards (here's an interesting article on developing visual literacy to better identify hazards). You'll need to provide proper site-specific safety orientations to contractors, as well (download our free Online Contractor Orientation Systems Buyer's Guide and check out our article on contractor management best practices).
In addition to all that, be sure to check out OSHA's Gas and Oil Well Drilling & Servicing eTool, which identifies common hazards and suggests controls to reduce occupational injuries and deaths.
And finally, have a safety management program. Remember, safety is an investment.
Oil and gas industry workers are faced with many risks and hazards on the job. But that doesn't mean the work has to be dangerous, leading to incidents, injuries, and fatalities. Following the safety-moment tips we've provided above will go a long way to creating a safer, healthier, happier, and more profitable work area and company.