You come to your well site one morning and find a 20-year old worker dead on the well pad. He had been gauging a crude oil tank. That’s the stuff of nightmares for all safety managers at oil and gas (O&G) sites. This particular nightmare came true for one safety manager and serves as an example for the risks to workers from exposure to gases and vapors at O&G extraction sites. Today and tomorrow we offer a dozen tips to protect workers at O&G sites from exposure to hydrocarbon gases and vapors.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have issued an updated hazard alert for workers involved in manual tank gauging and fluid sampling at O&G extraction sites.
When a worker opens a tank hatch, he or she can immediately be exposed to a mix of concentrated hydrocarbon gases and vapors. Here are a dozen tips for manual tank gauging and fluid sampling at O&G extraction sites to avoid worker exposure to gases and vapors.
Tip 1. Implement alternative tank gauging and sampling procedures. The primary risk for inhaling gases and vapors comes when opening a tank hatch. Explore remote or automatic gauging procedures that enable workers to monitor tank fluid levels and take samples without opening the tank hatch. Note. Check with your state to make sure that there is not a requirement for manual tank sampling.
Tip 2. Retrofit existing tanks with dedicated sampling ports. These sampling ports, or taps, should minimize the magnitude of hydrocarbon plumes and should limit the need for workers to access the top of tanks.
Tip 3. Install thief hatch pressure indicators. Pressure indicators can show workers the pressure in the tank and allow a trained worker to follow appropriate procedures, such as actuating a blowdown valve, venting gas to a flare, or using appropriate respiratory protection, such as a self-contained breathing apparatus or an air-line respirator.
Tip 4. Conduct exposure and hazard assessments. Such assessments will help you determine the need for engineering controls, respirators, and other personal protective equipment (PPE), and monitoring devices such as multigas meters. OSHA recommends that you consult an occupational safety and health professional trained and certified in industrial hygiene and who has knowledge and experience with combined flammable gas and vapor exposures to ensure that an appropriate air-sampling strategy is used.
Tip 5. Make sure the required and adequate training is conducted. Training for O&G workers includes hazard communication, proper use of PPE, procedures when working alone, uses and limits of respiratory protection equipment, tank gauging practices, emergency response, the uses and limits of toxic and multigas meters, and how to recognize ignition sources.
Tip 6. Make sure that hazard communication training is in a language that employees understand. Ensure that general site workers, tank gaugers and samplers, water haulers, drivers, and others who open tank hatches understand the hazards associated with opening tanks and the precautions necessary to safely conduct this work. These hazards include reduced oxygen environments, flammability hazards and possible ignition sources, and the potential for concentrations of hydrocarbons that can approach or exceed the IDLH (immediately deadly to life or health) concentrations.
Tip 7. Posthazard signage at access stairs, catwalks, and/or tanks to alert workers about the hazards associated with opening thief hatches and precautions that must be taken.
Tune in to tomorrow’s Advisor for the rest of the dozen tips for protecting O&G workers from tank gauging and sampling hazards.