Reducing Worker Exposure to Hydrocarbon Vapors in the Oil & Gas Industry

Wayne Vanderhoof led a discussion on protecting oil & gas workers in the onshore industry from getting exposed to tank hazards.

ATLANTA -- On day two of ASSE's Safety 2016 conference here, Wayne Vanderhoof, CSP, from RJR Safety, Inc. discussed fatalities in the oil and gas industry that occur from being exposed to dangerous vapors and gases, specifically from tank gauging and sampling. According to Vanderhoof, nine fatalities in the oil & gas industry between 2010 and 2014 were a direct result of being exposed to tank hazards, such as a deficiency of oxygen, fires and/or explosions, and chemical toxicity.

Often, these fatalities or injuries occur while the worker is gauging a tank or collecting samples. What usually happens is the tank becomes oxygen deficient, so when it is opened up a large amount of flammable vapor is released, causing someone to pass out. The short-term risks associated with these accidents are pretty straightforward: irritation of the throat, headaches, and nausea. The long-term risks are more dangerous: damage to the liver and nervous system, as well as cancer, among other things.

Vanderhoof said employers must consider the engineering of the work being done. For example, why is it necessary for a worker to go up on a catwalk in order to gauge the tank? Is it possible to rework the process so that it is at ground level? Questions such as these, as well as considering the use of remote gauging, can help prevent an incident before it ever occurs.

Some of the other tips Vanderhoof gave were to conduct a flash fire assessment of the workspace, develop a system of sampling ports, restrict the use of tools, use static electricity protectors, limit exposure time, and use PPE such as respiratory protection.

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