workers are shown on an active oil rig

Drilling Fluids' Health Risks Explained

A new online guide from the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers' Health Committee can help to limit workers' exposures to the fluids, which can produce a variety of health effects, including contact dermatitis.

A 60-page "Drilling Fluids and Health Risk Management: A Guide for Drilling Personnel, Managers and Health Professionals in the Oil and Gas Industry" guide posted last month by two European organizations, the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers (OGP) and the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (IPIECA), will help energy industry safety/industrial hygiene personnel understand the health effects of drilling fluids and how to protect workers exposed to them. OGP's Health Committee produced the guide.

It discusses best practices and the use of a risk-based process for managing health risks. Water-based fluids and hydrocarbon-based non-aqueous drilling fluids are widely used, as are additives in the fluids; the guide's pages include hyperlinks to 11 appendices that list fluid characteristics, common additives, potential health effects, monitoring methods, and health surveillance for fluid exposure.

Skin irritation and contact dermatitis are the most common health effects observed from fluid exposure, with headache, nausea, eye irritation, and coughing seen less frequently, according to the guide, which says inhalation and skin contact are the primary exposure routes. The guide goes through the risks found in each part of a drilling operation and the potential exposures of jobs done for it, with a chart displaying exposure types and influencing factors for each location. If there is no legislation in place governing recordkeeping, OGP/IPIECA Report No. 393 suggests maintaining health records for a minimum of 40 years after the individual leaves employment, according to the guide.

Essential protective steps include minimizing the number of chemicals used in fluids being employed, laundering protective clothing properly and designating one washer for clothing saturated with drilling fluids, regular hand washing with the correct type of soap, job rotation, and PPE, including goggles, respirators, and chemical-resistant gloves and clothing.

"The document is designed to be of use to operator and drilling personnel and their managers; health, safety and environment staff; drilling fluid specialists; rig-site medical staff; and occupational health and hygiene professionals," said IPIECA Technical Director Rob Cox, who provides secretariat support to the Health Committee,

OGP includes most of the world's oil and gas companies, industry associations, and major upstream service companies. OGP members produce more than half of the world's oil and about one-third of its gas.

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