Industrial Supply Blog

Respiratory Protection Requirements for Oil Field Workers

Aug 20, 2019 9:38:00 AM

It’s a face-melting 100 degrees on the rig. The skin on the back of your neck is near blistering from the sun. As you go to wipe the beads of sweat from your brow you notice the dirt, oil and grime caked under your fingernails. You’re already looking forward to clocking out and hitting the showers.

With a quick look at the time, you realize you’re only eight hours in to a twelve hour shift. You’re feeling every bit of these eight hours and you just realized it’s getting harder and harder to take a breath. Darn it, when was the last time you swapped out your respirator cartridge?

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If you’ve ever had a moment like this, you know you just put yourself in serious danger. We’re here to help make sure that doesn’t happen again.

Read How to Clean and Maintain Your Respirator in 3 Simple Steps for simple tips on respirator care.

It’s no secret that working in the oil and gas industries is dangerous. So dangerous in fact that between 2013 and 2017, 489 oil and gas extraction workers were killed doing their job. Many of these fatalities were due to a number of reasons including vehicle accidents, struck-by hazards, explosions and fires, falls and more.

The work-related hazards we want to discuss today are the common dangers to a worker’s health that could have been prevented with the right respiratory protection like full-face respirators, self-contained breathing apparatus, gas monitors, portable air sources, hazardous location ventilators and more.

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What Do OSHA and Other Regulatory Bodies Have to Say About Oil Field Worker Respiratory Safety?

This is not an exhaustive list of oil field dangers by any means. That’s why it’s critical to have thorough hazard assessments performed regularly and adhere to OSHA’s Toxic and Hazardous Substances Standard 29 CFR 1910.1000 and OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard 29 CFR 1910.134 at a minimum.

In the case of accidental release of a dangerous gas like H2S, then the HAZWOPER 29 CFR 1910.120 standard applies for emergency situations. Be sure to review all respiratory standards before you attempt to create a respiratory program.

Plus, don’t rely on the bare minimum for safety either. There may not be a plethora of regulations regarding respiratory safety in the oilfield, but that’s no excuse for not taking the right precautions.

If workers are likely to be exposed to dangerous levels of volatile and harmful gases, vapors, fumes, liquids, particulates or dusts, employers must work to eliminate hazards and provide proper respiratory protection. Period.

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Protect Oil Field Workers from These 4 Common Respiratory Hazards:

Let’s review a few of the most common respiratory hazards that oil field workers face everyday. If you’d like a more in-depth look into some of these risks, read our post The Top 5 Deadly Gases in the Oil and Gas Industry.


Hydrogen Sulfide

Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is one of the most deadly hazards in oil and gas work. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll always smell the signature aroma of rotten eggs with this hazard, this gas can sometimes become odorless after it deadens your sense of smell. Make sure to use gas monitoring devices, engineer out the danger, provide detailed training on the risk and wear recommended SCBA gear.



Harmful toxins like benzene, butane and methane are known around oil storage tanks as “sweet gas” or hydrocarbons. High exposure to these gases can cause both short and long term illnesses, if not instant death. Self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) are recommended for working in or near these areas. 


Check out this Survivair Cougar SCBA (NIOSH) from Honeywell. The silicone rubber facepiece provides comfort and durability, even in extreme heat or cold. First stage regulator has minimal moving parts, dramatically enhancing reliability while reducing maintenance costs.

Honeywell Cougar SCBA



Hydraulic fracturing uses crystalline silica sand to split the earth, allowing operators to drill and extract the resources they’re looking for. The problem is when people are exposed to silica in this form, they breath in the harmful chemical which can cause irreversible damage like silicosis, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), kidney disease and death. OSHA and NIOSH takes this risk seriously and require workers and employers to know the dangers of silica exposure and how to prevent it.

View this Hazard Alert from OSHA for more information on staying safe.


OSHA Hazard Alert

Other Chemical Exposure

There are countless contaminants that an oil worker can be exposed to such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury vapor and even good ol’ diesel exhaust. Regular hazard assessments can help uncover these dangers so you can plan appropriately. Choose the right respirator and cartridge to match the risk. Here’s a tip: Rocky Mountain Industrial Supply can help.


The AV-3000™ Full Face Respirator from 3M™ Scott™ is a great option to protect your workers out in the oilfield. This respirator is comfortable and the same facepiece can be used for multiple respiratory configurations.

3M AV 3000 Full Face Respirator


4 Simple Reminders for Better Oil Field Safety


1. Review Standard Operating Procedures
Complacency is one of the biggest indicators of a failed safety program. That’s why it’s important to review your SOPs often and adapt protective measures like new respirator cartridges to any changing hazards. Once you do, you may find there are additional training opportunities, which leads us to the next step.


2. Train Workers on Safe Practices
Once you assess the dangers and develop protocol, it’s time to set it in motion. Be sure to train and retrain workers, both new and experienced ones, on the hazards and the safety equipment they use. Perform regular fit tests and retest when employees experience changes such as facial hair, illness, weight gain or changes in facial structure. Teach them how to use their respirators appropriately and run through various scenarios so there aren’t any surprises. Make safety training part of their daily conversation.


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3. Have an Emergency Plan in Place
Identify potential hazards and create a plan for emergency rescue. Having the right gear available is also important. In order to escape from hazardous or immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH) contaminants you need safety equipment designed for the job.

➤Pro Tip: Train the entire company on these procedures because when emergencies happen, common sense can fly out the window.


4. If You Don’t Know, ASK!
There’s no shame in not knowing how to handle a potential safety incident. However, there is shame in not finding the answers you need before an accident or illness occurs. Reach out to other professionals who can walk you through proper hazard assessments and help you choose the appropriate safety actions.


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We Make It Easy to Understand What's Required

We know this is a lot of information to take in. That’s why we want to let you in on a little secret. You’re not in this alone. If you need help, you can always have an industrial hygienist walk you through your site and help identify areas you can improve safety.

Or, simply stop in to Rocky Mountain Industrial Supply, visit our website or give us a call at 307-472-5519. We’d love to help get you and your team in the gear they need to work safely.

We’re here to help keep the American workforce safe everyday.


Topics: respiratory

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2019 State of Oil & Gas