How safe is your rig?

In this piece Stuart Turnbull reviews the main risks for oil rigs and how they can be addressed.

Oil and gas production is a hazardous business. The combination of physical demands and extreme working environments creates unforgiving conditions where mistakes can cost lives. Collectively, the industry has recognised the importance of worker safety and placed significant effort into reducing safety risks on rigs, as evidenced by the sharp reduction in incidents over the last decade. The latest offshore safety figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)1 show that of the 5.5 million days worked by more than 33,000 operatives in the North Sea in 2013/14, there was just one fatality and only three fatalities in the past five years. However, accidents do still happen.

Everyday activities such as maintenance, construction and deck operations account for 70 per cent of major injuries on rigs, with ‘struck by’, slips, trips and falls, handling and working at height being the main causes2. The result can be fractures, sprains, strains and lacerations, mainly on the upper and lower limbs, many of which are preventable. Major injury levels have not decreased over the past ten years, whilst rates for over three- and seven-day injuries rose for the first time in five years in 2013/1433. Although the cross-industry focus on reducing the amount of major Hydrocarbon Releases (HCR) has achieved positive results, in 2013/14 minor releases still increased by about 20 per cent4.

How should those responsible for health and safety on oilrigs address these ongoing issues?

Hitting back at ‘struck by’ injuries
‘Struck by’ injuries encompass the whole body, but some of the most serious relate to the eyes, face and head. Typical eye and face injuries can include metal splinters from cutting wire rope or hydraulic fluid sprays. Where eye hazards exist, ensure protective eyewear is compliant with EN166 and associated eye protection standards covering protective spectacles, goggles and visors. Safety spectacles with extended wraparound frames improve protection and peripheral vision. Comfort is essential so look for added wearer features such as flexible width sizes, adjustable nose bridge and ratcheting temple hinges, enabling fit and lens angle to be customised by the wearer. Anti-fog lenses help preserve vision when exertion, heat and humidity exist.

For high-hazard jobs with increased risk from flying particles or hot liquid droplets, workers will need protection from full-face visors. Heavy mechanical work will require polycarbonate visors; chemical contact will require acetate visors; electrical work will require polycarbonate visors and welding tasks will require a polycarbonate visor with an Infrared (IR/UV) level 3.0 or 5.0 lens.

When it comes to head protection, hard-hat performance is obviously the number one concern. Hard hats must conform to the EN 397: 2012 standard for industrial helmets, complying against impact and penetration tests.

User acceptance is also vital, so a snug, comfortable fit is essential and a good quality suspension (the support frame) within the hardhat is important. For a hard hat, the higher the number of suspension points – which, improves comfort and spreads the energy of an impact to the hat – the better.

Finally, ensure there are no interoperability issues when the selected head, face and eye protection need to be used simultaneously.

Out-maneuvering slips, trips and falls
With rig floors frequently wet – either from weather conditions or the fluids used to wash them down – slips and subsequent trips and falls can be common hazards. In addition to physical protection, comfort, flexibility, stability, abrasion and high slip resistance are important selection criteria when selecting safety footwear. Uppers should be manufactured from a water resistant or waterproof material – ideally using smooth leather. Additionally, it is essential to select shoes featuring protective toecaps – e.g. metal-free – as well as steel or textile midsoles while ensuring good levels of ankle support and protection. And given the potential for cold environments, consider thermal linings.

Check coefficient of friction (CoF) test values. The higher the coefficient, the better the slip resistance, which ideally should be higher than the minimum requirements set out in EN ISO 20345/6/7. Footwear passing the EN slip resistance test is marked with a specific code, SRA (tested on ceramic tile wetted with dilute soap solution), SRB (tested on smooth steel with glycerol) or SRC (tested under both conditions). Shoes marked with SRC thus ensure the highest level of safety and should be selected when working in harsh environments such as rigs.

Breathe easily with protection from hydrocarbon exposure
Respiratory protection is critical when it comes to hydrocarbon exposure, but what type of devices should you opt for? For those stored in deck areas, ensure they are compliant with EN1146:2005 and ISO 23269-1:2008 setting out the performance specifications for emergency escape breathing devices (EEBD) in marine environments.

Where oxygen levels are acceptable, the contaminant is known and filterable, and the area being worked in not an immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH) atmosphere, consider filtering apparatus that includes a mask and filtration device for ambient air purification. Where oxygen levels are unacceptable or unknown and the risk uncertain, opt for a compressed air isolating device with full mask, a hood or a chemical oxygen re-breather solution.

Where the risk to the worker comes from both gases and particulates a combination filter with both activated charcoal and mechanical elements is required. Other respiratory considerations will include the type of face piece according to the level of protection required and the length of time needed to escape.

For workers carrying their own protective respiratory equipment, consider their operational environment – confined spaces for example – and ensure equipment is light, compact, easy to use and quick to put on.

Getting to grips with handling hazards
Rig workers’ hands are exposed to a range of mechanical, thermal and chemical hazards. Even common tasks such as holding cat line ropes – which can experience sudden and erratic load movements – require suitable protection.

Ensure gloves meet EN 420-2003 for general duties, EN388-2003 for mechanical risks and EN 374-3 for Cat 3 chemical risks (irreversible risks) in addition to offering comfort, dexterity, flexibility and grip.

Besides ensuring specialist chemical protection, which often requires support from the glove manufacturer, protecting workers’ hands against mechanical hazards is a top priority. The latest gloves combine physical protection with comfort and flexibility, are fully dipped with a nitrile foam coating for enhanced grip in both wet and dry applications and specialist cut protection from EN388 level 1 to 5. For enhanced impact protection look for products with added ‘rubberisedarmour’ on the back of the hand.

Arresting falls from height
Workers at height are exposed to some of the greatest dangers on rigs, for example when climbing derrick or offset ladders. When considering Personal Fall Protection Equipment (PFPE) there are three main considerations. Firstly ‘avoidance’: can work at height be avoided, even work carried out at low height levels where falling may not be considered an issue? Secondly, ‘prevention’: using collective fall protection to secure a group of people. Thirdly mitigation: using PFPE as the last resort to minimise the effects of a fall. The goal here is to reduce the potential of a fall (restraint) and the effects (fall arrest).

Select PFPE designed and manufactured by a company that understands the risks faced by rig workers. Also bear in mind that the PFPE system includes three physical parts – an anchor point (permanent or temporary), body wear (harness, restraint belts) and connecting device (self-retractable lifelines, shock-absorbing lanyards, rope grabs).

Systems should be designed and installed to reduce both the swinging effect and free fall, avoiding interference with the draw-works or elevators during operations. Ensure tie off at all times when workers are transferring from the derrick ladder to the board or basket.

Before selecting fall arrest equipment, consider the user, their environment and specific application. The service life of PFPE varies greatly depending on factors like frequency and conditions of use, so ensure pre-use inspections are undertaken before every use.

Blocking out noise induced hearing loss For high-noise zones such as drilling or plant rooms, reliable communication and safety are life-critical necessities. Solutions will depend on the working environment, noise levels and length of exposure.

Rig-relevant hearing solutions include intelligent hearing protection and communication systems offering features such as automatic fit check to ensure the ear plug is properly fitted and warning the wearer if it isn’t. These systems also include real-time monitoring of the worker’s protected and unprotected noise exposure levels, digital noise reduction technology and adaptive hearing protection that changes with changing noise levels.

Ultimately, rig workers are exposed to many different hazards, from slips, trips and falls to extreme noise. Statistics show that there is room for improvement when it comes to ensuring their health and safety. With this in mind, taking a fresh look at the latest innovations can help drive accidents and injury levels down further. We recommend that all safety programmes – both the overall safety strategy and the solutions deployed – are regularly reviewed for the protection of workers. By being proactive in testing and using the latest PPE technology and solutions, regularly reviewing training and reinforcing the message about the importance of head to toe protection, safety managers are able to gain worker insight, feedback and buy in.

All references:

Honeywell Safety Products
Stuart Turnbull is interim European sales director at Honeywell Safety Products (HSP), a global manufacturer of leading personal protective equipment (PPE) and provider of safety solutions. HSP helps company employees make safer decisions on their own and build an enduring culture of safety. With world class brands such as Honeywell, Howard Leight, Miller, North, KCL, Salisbury, Otter, and Timberland Pro, HSP offers a full range of quality PPE.

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Issue 122 July 2015