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Curbing Hand Injury Risks
Jobs in the oil and gas industry are some of the most hazardous in the world. In addition to fire and explosion risks, there are some certain risks, such as hand and finger injury risks, which the workers are facing on a regular basis. Hand and finger injury is a permanent trend for oil and gas companies' incident databases and one of the leading trends in the industry.
Historically, hand and finger injuries make up nearly 50 percent of incidents in the oil and gas industry, and sometimes this figure can reach up to 80 percent of all recordable incidents. According to the International Association of Drilling Contractors' 2014 statistics, hand and finger injuries were attributed to about 43 percent of all recordable incidents on drilling rigs, and this figure had increased from previous years; respectively, it was 41 percent in 2013 and 40 percent in year 2012. As a result of such statistics, companies are concentrating more and more on hand and finger injury prevention strategies.
Threats to the hands include being caught between objects and struck by them, chemicals, vibration, heat, cuts, bruises, breaks, burns, punctures, amputations, cold, and infectious or biological agents. Hands and fingers have more nerve endings per square centimeter that any part of human body. In addition to that, hands and fingers have more pain receptors than any other part of our body. This help us to quickly remove our fingers from a danger zone if we can and, because of these receptors, by experience finger injuries are more painful than similar injuries to other parts of the body.
Hand and finger injuries thus are considered a significant challenge in the oil and gas industry. This article reviews the mitigation measures in hand and finger injury prevention plans that have been used by oil and gas companies.
Proper Risk Assessment
There's no need to accentuate that proper risk assessment and communicating the results with employees play an important role in minimizing hand and finger injuries. Identification of related hazards, such as pinch points, struck by, cut, puncture, and chemical exposure, and defining suitable control measures will be the starting point in any hand and finger injury prevention plan.
Priority should be given to minimizing employees’ exposure to unnecessary risks with the elimination of requirements for employee involvement in hands-on activities if it is reasonably practicable or through implementation of engineering controls. Use of protective gloves should be considered as the last mitigation option in the hierarchy of controls. It is imperative to mention that most of the times, the protective gloves lessen the severity of injury and if they fail, it could expose the employee to the inherent danger.
Initiation of Hand and Finger Injury Prevention Campaigns
Due to large number of hand and finger injuries each year, most oil and gas companies put hand and finger injury campaigns in their annual HSE plans and define it as one of their KPIs. Companies allocate required resources, including a budget, people, and the time for implementation of such campaigns.
Establishing a hands and fingers injury working group, conducting awareness sessions, organizing workshops, distributing awareness posters, and introducing better protective gloves are typical activities included in such campaigns.
Injury Prevention Training
Increasing workers' awareness in relation to hand and finger injuries and concentrating on risky behaviors leading to hand and finger injuries are critical and are widely used by companies. Simulated exercises, such as taping up a student's dominant hand and asking him to perform some simple jobs, could be an effective learning practice and will help employees understand why they should take care of their hands and fingers at all times.
Consider organizing a speech by some who were involved in hand and finger injuries to explain how such injuries affected their lives also has been beneficial to increase workers’ awareness and their opportunity to learn from experience. Reviewing Safety Alerts in relation to hand and finger injuries and regular toolbox talks could be considered part of increasing awareness. Because a good attitude toward health and safety is critical, behavior-based training and involving workers in activities such as hazards hunting exercises is fundamental to achieving the required results.
Training, communication, on-the-job coaching, and employees' involvement are key components to keeping hand safety awareness top of mind.
Introducing Advanced Technology
Certain type of injuries have been reduced by using advanced technology such as a remote-control pipe handling system for oil and gas drilling rigs. In fact, removing personnel from machinery helped companies improve their safety performance.
For instance, introducing an "iron derrickman" on drilling rigs eliminated the requirement to have a derrickman on top of a derrick and other floormen on the rig floor with exposure to various risks, including pipe handling. All operations could be performed and controlled by the driller remotely. Another typical example of advanced technology is the remote "top drive system" that achieved a "hands-off" casing running operation, which an obvious safety advantage. Oil and gas companies in some regions, such as Norwegian waters, are obliged to comply with certain regulatory requirements and use the unmanned and remotely operated equipment. However, introducing advanced equipment created other hazards to personnel and in some cases significant incidents have occurred. These include collisions and other interactions between remotely controlled equipment and personnel, between equipment and structures, between different pieces of drill floor equipment, or within the equipment itself.
Enforcement of a 'Hands Free System'
Handling and positioning of heavy equipment often result in trapped or crushed fingers and hands. A majority of oil and gas companies and contractors developed "hands free" policies and initiated comprehensive campaigns in order to reduce the number of hand and finger injuries. This was achieved by enforcing the use of tagline and push pole for loads and also installing CCTV on rigs and platforms’ cranes booms for use during lifting operations.
There is no doubt that the gloves play a significant role in protecting workers' hands and fingers. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, around 30 percent of hand injuries occurred because hand protection was inadequate, damaged, or misapplied. The old cotton glove days are over now, and high-performance hand protection is required for medium to heavy-duty work to reduce the heavy costs associated with hand and finger injuries. This work would include applications such hand tool use, pipe handling, and valve operation.
Improved design in gloves has enhanced their use in the oil and gas industry and particularly on drilling rigs in recent years, where 56 percent of all recordable incidents in 2014 were attributed to "struck by" and "caught between objects." Nowadays, major oil and gas companies require their employees to use more rugged new-technology gloves. Adding thermoplastic rubber ribs to gloves to absorb and dissipate impacts on the back of the hand is one of the features of new gloves that maybe a solution for the high rate of these types of injuries.
High visibility, waterproof, impact absorption, high durability, high dexterity, and better grip are the features of the new gloves. While wearing safety gloves is crucial to hand protection, selecting and wearing the correct type of gloves is also critical. Even though gloves provide high levels of protection, workers are unlikely to wear them for extended periods if the gloves are uncomfortable or hinder their ability to do their jobs.
Implementing a safety gloves survey would help to assess the working environment and define which type of glove is required for each task. There is also option to trial the protective gloves. A trial can be a good way to establish employee support and assess the gloves’ suitability.
Introducing Protective Tools
A range of safely products, including the finger saver, pipe catcher, pipe handling tools, push sticks, and load handling straps, has been produced by different manufactures to support oilfield personnel in hands-free policies and are being used by oil and gas companies to reduce the number of hand and finger injuries. These protective tools are designed to remove workers' hands and fingers from danger zones.
Highlighting Danger Zones
Identification of hazardous area such as pinch points by color coding and warning stickers is widely used by oil and companies to enhance employees' awareness and reduce the number of hand and fingers injuries. Considering compliance with the regulatory requirements and standards, the equipment manufacturers should implement such systems on their equipment before putting their equipment in service. However, frequent use of equipment and other factors, such as weather conditions, may cause the warning paints and stickers to disappear, and repainting may be required.
Thousands of people are injured every year when a ring, bracelet, or other piece of jewelry gets caught in machinery or pinch points. Not allowing employee to use rings and jewelry while performing tasks is critical .There is no doubt that wearing jewelry such as rings caused an increase in the severity of finger injuries, and most companies have developed policies and procedures to ban wearing of jewelry on working fields.
Selecting the Right Tools
Selection of proper hand tools is crucial for preventing hand and finger injuries. Using the wrong tools for the job or using the right tools in the wrong way can result in a serious hand and finger injury. Regular hand tool inspections and using protective tools in combination with hand tools where practicable play a significant role in injury prevention. Banning the use of some tools, such as adjustable wrenches, is critical because they have the tendency to slip and increase the likelihood of hand and finger injuries.
Installation of Proper Guards for Machinery
Many machines have built-in safeguards in order to protect employees' hand or other parts of the body. Proper guarding on machineries and regular inspections to ensure are the guards are not compromised are fundamental to prevent the exposure of body parts to danger zones.
Despite a lot of efforts by oil and gas companies, the industry statistics indicate that the number of hand and finger injuries is increasing year by year. The literature review indicates that there is no single solution to reduce the number of hand and finger injuries and a range of mitigation measures should be included in companies’ hand and finger injury prevention strategies.
Improved technology in some areas, such as oil and gas drilling rigs, reduced hand and finger injury risks to a certain degree, however, it also has introduced new risks that need to be mitigated. Involvement of employees in hand and finger injury prevention programs is crucial to reduce the number of injuries and get the required results.
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This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.
Shahram Vatanparast, MSc, CMIOSH, FIIRSM, is a Chartered Safety and Health Practitioner and fellow member of International Institute of Risk and Safety Management. He graduated from Loughborough University with an MSc degree in Occupational Health and Safety Management. Since 1999, he has worked for major oil and gas operating companies such as TOTAL, ENI, SINOPEC, and PTTEP in Middle East and South Asia regions. Currently, he is working as a freelance QHSE consultant in the oil and gas upstream sector in both onshore and offshore fields.