Despite many precautions being taken, the fact remains that working in the upstream oil and gas industries remains hazardous, and unfortunately there are fatalities every year all over the world. This is in spite of government regulation in many countries and the obligation of many companies to provide ample safety training for their employees.
There are several hazards that confined space workers in oil and gas upstream need to bear in mind. Acknowledgment the unique environments that these members of staff are working in can help tailor the correct training which will in turn help protect more lives and avoid a high number of fatalities every year.
Firstly, it is necessary to consider that in many cases, gas and other toxic vapors are behind the fatalities in these industries. Unlike in other sectors, confined space work here involves being in environments which are naturally high in gas and other vapours which can be dangerous for human health and can cause loss of life.
In addition to this, it is important to note that the build up of gas in confined areas can result in explosions; these and the inhalation of toxic gases are two of the leading causes of fatalities in the upstream oil and gas industries.
However, the largest number of accidents resulting in loss of life around the world in these sectors is those in confined spaces being struck by falling objects. This raises several issues which need to be addressed by appropriate planning and confined space training.
The first of these is that the build up of gas can actually cause objects to be moved and to fall, and explosions can also have the same effect. It is important therefore to maintain a safe working environment so that there is no such build up of explosive substances so that an explosion will not occur and harm workers, whether directly in the blast or through falling objects and debris.
Secondly, workers need to be adequately protected with the right protective equipment so that they are less likely to suffer injury should such a circumstance arise and they are stuck by a falling object.
Adequate confined space training will make sure that workers are also able to adequately assess the environment they are working in to detect any unstable objects that can strike workers, as well as monitor the build up of gases in the area in which they are working. Training will also ensure that they are aware of what to do in an emergency situation.
There are also some other considerations that those working in these particular industries need to bear in mind. As well as being adequately trained in monitoring gas and vapour build-up, it is important to be aware of other items in the area that can lead to explosions, structural damage and fatal accidents in the workplace.
This includes the use of electrics near sources of gas or other vapors. As gas is a substance that is present in the industry on a wide basis, many employees can become complacent about it, therefore confined space training should ensure that all workers are fully informed on just how dangerous a substance it really is and how it can endanger human life in numerous ways.
Many staff working in the upstream gas and oil industries also tend to work long shifts, which can mean a higher capacity for errors to be made due to tiredness and lack of attention. Again, regular and focused training can help raise awareness among employees so that fatal lapses in attention result more rarely.
On top of this, it is critical that adequate planning, prevention, rescue measures and provision of personal protective equipment are all ensured to a sufficient level to mitigate some of the major risks that these hazardous environments present.