Protecting Oil and Gas Workers from Hydrocarbon Gases and Vapors

Protecting Oil and Gas Workers from Hydrocarbon Gases and Vapors

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[ Music ]>>He started working in the
oil fields in Utah probably about 2010, and went to
North Dakota in 2011, and then down to Oklahoma. He was an owner-operator truck
driver, very independent. He loved to work, he really did. They would give him an
assignment to go pick up crude. He would go up and test the oil, and then load the
crude onto the trailer. He was out by himself
all the time. He usually only came home
maybe, what, every other month?>>Yeah.>>A few dates. [ Phone Ringing ] They called me, 9
o’clock my time, and told me they were having
problems getting in touch with David, that
there was a problem, and then the hospital called
me, and gave me the bad news. [ Music ]>>Oil and natural gas
extraction workers are no strangers to hard work. The hours can be long, the work
can be physically demanding, and often involves travel
to remote locations. There are over 500,000 workers
employed in the industry, a workforce that is critical to the energy infrastructure
of the nation. Some oil and gas production
workers are responsible for measuring or
gauging how much oil and water is in the
storage tanks. These workers often manually
gauge the level of fluid by lowering a device into
the opening on the top of the tank called
a thief hatch. This may be done dozens
of times in one day. Oil haulers also collect
and test samples of the oil, called thieving, to determine
its quality before loading it onto their tanker trucks
and transporting the product to a terminal, railhead,
or refinery. If done manually, the
hauler will lower a tube into the thief hatch, and
then perform a series of tests on the oil before beginning
a fluid or custody transfer. For workers who gauge
and thieve the oil, the weather can be severe,
the shifts are long, and many work at
night and alone.>>Being away from home is tough
in itself, and then you have to deal with all the
risks that are involved in hauling crude and buying oil.>>They’re out there in
all kinds of weather. You’ve got big, heavy equipment. You’ve got slip hazards. You’re up there on a catwalk. But, the gas was the main thing
that they were worried about.>>Cindy’s husband,
David, owned his own truck and had been chasing
the oil boom since 2010. On March 20th, 2014, David
arrived at a tank site. He climbed the catwalk, opened
the thief hatch, was overcome by gas, and soon after, was found by another
trucker, motionless.>>He was always
very, very careful. I know, he was not
looking to pass that day, and it just really hurts
to think that he was alone.>>From 2010 to 2014, there were at least 9 worker deaths
associated with exposure to a mixture of hydrocarbon
gas and vapors and insufficient oxygen when
the thief hatch was opened. The victims, aged 20 to
63, were found alone, collapsed on the thief hatch, or
on the tank catwalk or stairs. And, here’s why. When a thief hatch is opened,
large amounts of hydrocarbon gas and vapors can escape, especially if the tank
is under pressure. The plume of gas and vapors
can surround the worker, and the resulting displacement
of air can create an environment that is highly explosive
and oxygen deficient. In other words, workers
may be breathing, but they’re not getting
enough oxygen. Here, an infrared camera
allows us to see the plume, which is otherwise
invisible to workers. It can affect the eyes,
lungs, central nervous system, and can cause the heart to
have abnormal rhythms resulting in dizziness and disorientation,
loss of consciousness, and even sudden cardiac death.>>When you’re up there
and it hits you, you know, it kind of catches
you off guard. You kind of get dizzy. Most of the time, when
that happens, I just run, but when you try to run, it hits
you so fast, you get disoriented and don’t remember which
way you want to run. It becomes very overwhelming.>>You see where the
guy opens the hatch, see how much gas is coming out. These guys are at risk, because
there’s lots of harmful vapors within there, same
as you wouldn’t want to hang your head right
over top of your gas tank when you’re fueling your car. There’s benzenes, there’s
toluenes, there’s xylenes. There’s all kinds of things
that can have long-term or immediate effects if
you are deprived of oxygen. For a person to be
in that kind of risk, there’s no sense
in it, in my mind. During 2010 to 2014, 11
fatalities were identified to be — I’ve been in this
industry for 35 years. I can think back,
nobody told us what some of the health effects
could possibly be, and I’ve always vowed that if
I ever was in this position, everybody would know
what I know. It can cause permanent
heart damage. Our goal is to get
everybody home safely to their families every day.>>There are many factors that
may increase worker exposure to hydrocarbon gasses and
vapors, including conditions that are constantly changing. For this reason, everyone should
take precautions when on site. The following prevention
steps can reduce hazards and save lives. Engineering controls are
the most effective way to protect workers, by
removing hazardous conditions, or by placing a barrier between
the worker and the hazard. Ideally, it’s best if a worker
never has to open a thief hatch. Two examples that employers
are using include remote or automatic tank gauging
systems use a wireless divide to indicate how full
the tank is. In addition, existing
tanks can be retrofit with dedicated sampling ports or
taps to replace manual thieving. Sample valves for the tank are
located on the ground level.>>You can actually sample your
tank from the outside instead of thieving it from the top.>>In October 2016, the American
Petroleum Institute worked with industry and its partners
to develop a new standard that recognizes these and
other controls as safe and accurate methods
for measuring oil without opening a thief hatch. The Bureau of Land Management
has also adopted this new standard into its rules
for oil measurement on federal and tribal land.>>The main goal is to get
these guys off the tank where they don’t need to be. If that saves one life, that’s worth anything
in the world to me. That’s, to me, is
the ultimate goal.>>Additional safe work
practices and controls include.>>Hey, John, how’s it going?>>Inform designated
personnel when you begin and when you finish your work.>>Hey, I’m over here at the –>>Prior to leaving
your vehicle, make sure you don’t
have anything with you that could spark or
ignite flammable gas. Ensure personal multiple or multi gas monitor is
functioning properly, is placed within
the breathing zone, and has been properly
calibrated and tested. Monitors should be testing
for the lower explosive limit and oxygen deficiency, in
addition to hydrogen sulfide. If multi gas monitor
alarms go off at any time, immediately exit to a safe area. Ground yourself prior
to accessing the catwalk by making contact with bare
skin on a metal hand rail. Bleed off pressure from the tank by opening the main
tank bleed-off valve, if one is available,
and leave it open for the duration of work. Determine wind direction
using a windsock. Stand upwind, open the tank
thief hatch fully, and step back at a distance to let it vent. Leave it open while performing
gauging tasks, but be aware that due to changing
wind conditions, this method alone may
not keep you safe. Unless exposure assessments
indicate otherwise, use only supplied
air respirators or self-contained breathing
apparatus when working around open thief hatches. Half-mask, full-face, and powered air purifying
respirators with organic vapor
cartridges will not protect you from these types
of toxic exposures and oxygen-deficient
atmospheres. Wear flame-resistant clothing
and impermeable gloves. Employers should have written
worksite emergency action plans, and workers should be
trained in, and practice, emergency response procedures. Worker training is an important
part of workplace safety. Employers should conduct
hazard assessments to evaluate exposure
levels and other hazards and determine necessary
controls to protect workers, and communicate these
findings in a language that workers understand,
to both onsite workers and offsite contractors through
hazard awareness training. Post hazard signage
at tank access points, so that workers understand
the hazards and the precautions necessary
to do this work safely. And, train workers in these
proper work practices. Workers, remember,
you have the right to safe working conditions,
and to receive information and training about
workplace hazards. If you don’t know, or are unsure of the hazards, stop
the job and ask. Everyone has the right to
stop work that is unsafe. In addition, you can
contact OSHA any time to report unsafe
working conditions, or to file a complaint.>>You need to be informed
of what all the risks or hazards can be at a site,
what’s flammable, what’s not, what can have long-term effects.>>Just know your limits, don’t
get pressured into doing things that you feel uncomfortable
doing. Speak up, say something
to someone, don’t wait until it’s too late. [ Background Conversation ]>>The family was
everything to him. We have our five children,
and we’ve got the grandkids, and the wives, and we’ve
got a really special family. They all miss him.>>At the end of the
day, everybody wants to get home safe
to their families. Everybody’s there to earn
their money and everything, but the ultimate goal for
everybody is to get home safe to their families and friends. That’s the name of the game. [ Music ]

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