Industrial Supply Blog

The Dangerous Life of a Roughneck: The truth about oil drilling safety hazards

Sep 19, 2017 10:32:48 AM


Working in the oil and gas industry can be a stressful job. The risk of injury is all around, making these jobs some of the most dangerous ones in the world. Our society needs so much oil and gas to function. It’s easy to take for granted the risks that workers take every day.

More than 1,100 oil and gas workers died in work-related accidents between 2003 and 2013. That’s more than one hundred fatalities per year on average. Approximately 1,400 non-fatal accidents also occur every year. 

Often these injuries, illnesses and fatalities are preventable.  Through sufficient training and the use of proper safety gear, workers don’t have to be victims. These people are putting their lives on the line. Doesn’t it make sense to make sure they're equipped to protect themselves from injury?

Causes of Oil Extraction Accidents

Oil extraction is a complicated business. It requires many people working together with various types of machinery and equipment. The long travel distances and hazardous materials add to the danger.

Common scenarios that result in illness, injury and death are:

  • Motor vehicle collision
  • Struck-by, caught-in and caught-between accidents
  • Fires and explosions
  • Falls from height
  • Working in confined spaces

There are many options to keep these workers safe. Using the right personal protective equipment (PPE) can prevent accidents and limit the extent of injuries and illnesses. PPE and proper training creates safer worksites and more efficient workers. These benefits alone can improve a company’s financial health.

Common Safety Concerns When Oil Drilling

Motor Vehicle Collisions

Motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death for workers in this industry. This may be due to the remote location of many oil rigs.

It's natural to worry about the toxic and combustible materials that workers encounter while drilling. But we shouldn’t forget about this risk either. Train your teams on motor vehicle safety. Properly maintain, service and inspect vehicles regularly to ensure they are in good working condition. You can’t prevent every accident, but you can minimize them. Following proper safety measures will help keep those incidents few and far between. 

Struck-By, Caught-In, Caught-in-Between

The second leading cause of work-related injuries and fatalities for oil workers are struck-by, caught-in and caught-between accidents. Falling equipment and high-pressure lines can be the biggest culprits in these scenarios. 

Injuries and fatalities in this category tend to cover a broad range of incidents. Many of them are preventable. Unnecessary injuries are avoided when proper safety measures are observed and machinery is well-maintained. Train teams to look out for each other and be aware of their surroundings. These are two of the most important factors in preventing these kinds of incidents.

Struck-by and caught-in incidents often result from inattention or not noticing a co-worker who is nearby. Reflective clothing is an important line of defense in these scenarios. Make sure that workers are easily spotted. Help them stand out against the machinery and background with high visibility apparel. Take jobsite surroundings into account before selecting colors for high-visibility garments.

oilfield blowout

Explosions and Fires

Oil extraction puts workers at risk of fire or explosion. Well and flammable gases are released on-site. They can also be released from drilling and extraction equipment. It doesn't take much to start a blaze or an explosion in these conditions. Once active gas or hydrocarbon zones are discovered when drilling, that risk increases. Anything from static electricity to frictional heat can ignite these vapors and gases. Ignition can cause a flash fire that can endanger the entire team.

To combat these hazards, OSHA requires workers to wear flame-resistant clothing (FRC) while drilling. These come in several styles to allow for full body coverage and maximum protection in the event of a flash fire. For additional protection, workers can wear a respirator to prevent the inhalation of toxic fumes.

Remember, FRC items should only be purchased from appropriate vendors. Be sure they provide proper documentation that the items follow current safety regulations. It's also important to ensure that all FRC items are in proper working order before using them. Never use damaged or defective gear. And don’t buy used equipment due to the fact that you can’t verify their effectiveness.

Falls from Height

Falls can occur from almost any height. But oil extraction work often occurs on platforms that are high above ground. It doesn't take much to slip, trip or lose balance while working at heights.

Falls remain one of the most common workplace accidents. Many of them are preventable with the right equipment. OSHA requires anyone working at heights of four feet or higher to secure themselves using fall protection equipment.

Personal fall arrest systems (PFAS) are engineered to adapt to a variety of scenarios. And, as the name suggests, they stop worker from falling. PFAS are usually made up of an anchor, a harness and a lanyard. These systems absorb the energy of an individual in the event of a fall. Workers can also equip themselves with a self-retracting lifeline. This device can limit a free fall to two feet or less, increasing survival rate. With a well-selected and properly functioning fall arrest system, workers who fall can still make it home at the end of the day.

Confined Spaces

You don’t have to be claustrophobic to struggle with confined spaces. Oil extraction workers face various types of confined spaces. And each carries their own particular risks:

  • Storage tanks
  • Mud pits and reserve pits
  • Excavated areas around wells
  • Sand storage containers

Confined spaces can expose workers to hazardous fumes from gases and chemicals. Because many of these are odorless and colorless, workers who don't have properly calibrated gas monitoring equipment may not realize there’s a danger until it's too late. 

Confined spaces must be tested and monitored while anyone is at work within them. Proper ventilation and respirators are also required to reduce the likelihood of asphyxiation or severe illness while working in these spaces.

Oil team working together

Staying Safe

Being an oil worker isn't an easy job. It's stressful work that these workers perform in very hazardous conditions. But, with the right training and the right PPE, oil drilling workers can remain safe. They work hard to provide us with the resources we need. They need to know they’ll be able to go home safe at the end of the day. 


Topics: Oil drilling safety

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