According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, oil and gas extraction workers suffered injuries at rates seven times greater than those of all U.S. industries from 2003 to 2010.
The United Steelworkers union has backed oil and gas industry employees who raised concerns about safety operations at U.S. refineries, demanding more focused standards to protect workers from common job site hazards that put lives at risk.
Those hazards include vehicle accidents, falls, explosions and fires, as well as hazards caused by inclement weather, such as high winds and frigid temperatures. Additionally, working with heavy machinery throughout the day is physically taxing, and the equipment itself poses dangers to employees.
Employees at refineries, such as the BP Plc and Husky Energy, Inc., facility in Toledo, Ohio, have asked site operators to better assess and troubleshoot safety risks and issues. Workers, who consider themselves the by-default “on-site safety specialists” at refineries, discussed their day-to-day roles in monitoring refined products and overseeing work permits.
Being outside during the winter months can be dangerous, too, and employers and site operators should be taking the proper precautions to ensure the safety of workers. The Division of Workers’ Compensation at the Texas Department of Insurance explained that severe weather conditions can create significant problems, including hypothermia and frostbite.
Companies should implement effective safety training programs that accommodate for cold-related conditions. For instance, workers should know that the majority of body heat is lost through the scalp, hands, cheeks and ears, so these areas need the most protection. Workers should also be working in pairs rather than alone, as the buddy system allows employees to recognize any signs of declining health in one another. In addition, employers can provide more opportunities for frequent short breaks in heated shelters to keep staff from getting fatigued.
With oil and gas industry workers operating specialized equipment in hazardous conditions, making investments to protect them (training on safety measures, equipment use and more) is critical.