Do you work in the oil and gas industry? If so, you know how tough the employees are. They persevere in cold weather and harsh working conditions. Oil and gas workers face exposure to serious hazards every day. One of them is working from heights.
These workers often climb on elevated equipment such as drilling and service rigs. That’s why fall protection is required to protect workers in these situations.
A derrickhand is one of those employees who needs to work from heights. And it’s one of the highest risk jobs for experiencing a fall. Derrickhands guide stands of drill pipe into the equipment’s fingers. They do this while tripping out the hole, or removing the drill string. This is done from an elevated position on the derrick. Not an easy job. And not the safest either.
Let’s say one of your workers was assigned to work as a derrickhand. When he gets to the jobsite, will there be fall protection equipment available to him? Does he know how to use it? Does he know why he needs to use it? These are the questions you should be asking yourself.
Hazards of working as a derrickhand
An employee who works as a derrickhand encounters fall hazards several times throughout the day.
First, the hand must climb the derrick ladder. These ladders can be anywhere from 30 to 100 feet long. The ladders can be slippery, as they are often covered in grease, snow, or ice. Ladders are usually offset. This means the worker must transition from one ladder to the next. So climbing the derrick ladder is a hazard itself.
The employee faces even more fall hazards when he reaches the platform. The walkways up there have several gaps in the flooring. And they can be slippery, too. Handrails aren’t always present, and even if they are, much of the area remains exposed.
This video is an example of derrickhand performing his work.
In 2012, OSHA issued a FATALFacts report on an employee who died after falling 90 feet from the derrick to the rig floor. The employee was not wearing fall protection. The sad truth is that his death could have been easily avoided.
We know how tough oilfield workers are. They brave the conditions and put up with the elements. They’re hard workers who are just trying to do a good job. But often times, that “toughness” mentality can get in the way of their safety. It can make them feel invincible.
They get complacent because they’ve “done it a hundred times.” They stop fearing the consequences.
Don’t let your employees become complacent about their safety. Remind them how important it is to wear their PPE. Warn them of the consequences if they don’t. They could get fired and lose their job. Or worse, they could experience a fall and end up seriously injured. Even killed. For more info on he hazards oil workers face everyday, read our blog "The Dangerous Life of a Roughneck: The truth about oil drilling safety hazards."
Fall protection equipment for derrickhands
A derrickhand must follow the ABC’s of fall protection equipment: Anchor, Body Harness, and Connector. This equipment needs to be readily available to the employee. It could literally save his life.
Anchor - A suitable anchor point must be used for all fall arrest systems. The anchor must be able to support the intended load. OSHA’s standard is a 5,000 lb minimum load capacity.
Body Harness - A full body harness must be provided to employees who wear fall protection equipment. Derrickhands, in particular, need a special type of harness. 3M and DBI Sala designed a harness specifically for the oil and gas industry. It has multiple D-rings and connection points, which are necessary for derrickhand work.
Positioning lanyards are also considered to be a connector. However, they serve a slightly different purpose. Instead of arresting a worker after a fall, a positioning lanyard prevents employees from ever experiencing a fall. Derrickhands should wear both a fall arrest lanyard and a positioning lanyard.
Descent - In addition to following their ABC’s, oil and gas industry workers should also apply the letter “D,” a descending device. These devices raise or lower an employee to safety after they have experienced a fall. If no descending device is used, workers should at least use suspension straps to reduce their risk of suspension trauma.
Here’s a review of what equipment a derrickhand needs to use and when:
Climbing the Ladder
- A durable SRL should be located at the crown or as part of a ladder safety system. Employees should be able to connect to the SRL from the ground, using a rope grab system. They must be connected and protected while climbing the derrick ladder.
- The SRL must be connected to a certified anchor point.
- A body harness must be worn at all times. The harness will help protect the worker from start to finish.
Transitioning onto the Platform
- A second SRL should be located on the platform, ready for the employee to use. After stepping onto the platform, the employee should connect to this new lanyard. This is done while still keeping the original SRL connected. Note: There should be a brief period in time where the worker is connected to both SRL’s. This ensures 100% tie-off, and that the employee will never be without protection. Once connected to the second SRL, he can (and should) disconnect the first one.
- The SRL must be connected to a certified anchor point.
- This is where the specialized body harness comes into play. Due to the many transitions and connection points, an oil and gas industry harness is the best option to use. These harnesses have several D-rings for optimal protection and ease of use.
Working from the Platform
- At this point, the worker is adequately protected. He is connected to a certified anchor point by using a harness and SRL.
- To protect the worker even more, use a personal restraint system or positioning lanyard. A personal restraint system consists of a body belt or harness, a restraint lanyard, and an anchor point.
In fact, this is considered to be the primary method of protection for these workers. But, since there is still a risk of a fall, a secondary fall arrest system must also be used. That’s why there’s also an SRL on the platform.
There are many fall hazards on drilling and service rigs.
So, when your employees are working on derricks, make sure they are tied off properly. Train them on the hazards of the job. Train them how to use the fall protection equipment. Most importantly, train them to never take risks when it comes to fall protection safety.