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Safety is Your Priority

Ultimately, safety is the responsibility of each individual. If one is going to take a step on an oil and gas production site, she must prepare herself by being aware of her environment and all of the hazards with which she may come in contact. However, safety does not apply solely on site. It’s a paradigm for thinking about the world from complex oil and gas operations to how items are arranged in your kitchen. Further, a holistic vision of operational success and sustainability depends on an integrated approach to health, safety, security, the environment and social responsibility.

Health and safety concerns may be related to fatigue, mental health, stress, particulates, pathogens, or equipment. One of our experts summarizes and elaborates on the topics we have discussed in this lesson, focusing on how these factors affect the oil and gas industry.


Health and Safety in the Oil and Gas Industry – Linda Battalora – Colorado School of Mines

Many factors determine the success of a project in the oil and gas industry. Technologies and resources are certainly critical, but there are five factors that form the main ingredients for a social license to operate. These are health, safety, security, environment and social responsibility. These five factors ensure a positive relationship between companies, the people working on the project and the broader community of stakeholders. Issues in any of these categories could lead to loss of social acceptance, permit or leasehold for a project.

Let’s focus on heath and safety. Fatigue is a major health concern, which greatly affects safety. Data show a strong link between fatigue and onsite and vehicular accidents. Fatigue management is a first line of defense for mitigating the risk of human error. Psychosocial risks and mental health risks affect all sites, regardless of location. These include work related stress and depression. In fact, mental health problems and other stress related disorders are among the leading causes of early retirement, high absence rates, overall health impairment and low organizational productivity.

Hand and respiratory hygiene issues also transcend location. Procedures for hand and respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette must be followed and it should be noted that guests to a site are also exposed to those risks and can carry diseases off site, if precautions are not taken.

Communicable diseases are also a primary health concern. Operators and regulators in the United States work at a decreased risk of diseases such as cholera, or typhoid, but multinational corporations and foreign independent companies may be exposed to higher risks, depending on the location of operations. Corporations and the World Health Organization both provide disease awareness and prevention programs.

With an increasingly interconnected world the risk of exposure to zoonotic diseases has also increased. Zoonoses are infectious diseases of animals that can naturally be transmitted to humans. Ebola, Salmonella, and West Nile virus are examples of zoonotic diseases. Appropriate and up to date vaccinations are one way of preventing the spread of disease. Pre and post employment screening can help detect and address physical issues, as well as psychosocial and mental health issues.

Beyond pathogens site operators and visitors may be exposed to risks of crystalline silica particles, nanoparticles and dermal absorption from chemical and vapor contact. Workers must be outfitted with appropriate clothing and safety equipment to protect against any risk that can be inhaled, ingested or absorbed. To protect against airborne and other risks personal protective equipment is required for all personnel on a work site. The type of equipment is dependent on the work taking place. Equipment may include hard hats, safety shoes, fire resistant clothing, eye protection, hearing protection, hydrogen sulfide gas detectors, gloves and other protective equipment.

Another potential danger in petroleum operations is heat related illnesses, such as cramps and heatstroke. Excessive heat can also cause disorientation, which could lead to accidents on the job.

Health and safety risks can change, so plans and procedures must change to address them. As we shift from developing conventional to unconventional resources the scale of projects and resources increases. New risks and hazards may emerge and they must be identified and prepared for. Even when precautions are taken and safety procedures are followed, exposure or accidents can occur. This is why an emergency preparedness and response plan must be in place and all parties must be knowledgeable about it.

In resource development the safety perception of all personnel on location must be in alignment. Open communication and education is critical to ensure the health and safety of all parties, including operators, observers and regulators.

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