From 2003 to 2010, OSHA recorded 823
work injury deaths in the oil and gas extraction industry. Hazards ranging from chemical
exposure to vehicle accidents were responsible for a fatality rate seven
times higher than all other industries. Over half of the fatalities were
to short-service workers on the job less than a year.
It is difficult to know what is going on in the many small sites of the
Bakken region. Nevertheless, the best way to prevent injury is to design
a safety program around the particular operation. Knowing what to look
for is the key to prevention. A hazard that is common in all Bakken drilling
and flowback sites is harmful levels of chemical substances.
Chemical and Toxic Hazards
Depending on the operation, oil and gas workers in the Bakken face exposure
to a variety of hazardous substances.
Well gases such as hydrogen sulfide (sour gas) can cause fluid in the lungs, knockdown
or neurotoxicity, conjunctivitis, irritability, nausea, fatigue and weight
loss. Exposure to levels over 500 ppm is fatal. Volatile organic compounds
above propane have an anesthetic effect. Methane poisoning and asphyxiation
can occur from exposure to the light hydrocarbons in well gas.
Crude Oil contains the carcinogenic, benzene. Acute exposure can cause difficulty
in breathing, dizziness, headaches, nausea and confusion while chronic
exposure can damage lungs, kidneys and the liver, suppress the immune
system, disrupt hormone levels, cause gene mutations, cancer and blood
disorders. Some polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in crude oil are also
Chemical additives for Bakken operations also include hazardous substances. Oil field sites
have high concentration of harmful raw chemicals including biocides, corrosives,
flammable friction reducers, and eye, nose, skin and lung irritants. Drilling
and shale formations also emit toxic substances and hydraulic fluids contain
a small percentage..
So how can Bakken operations minimize injury from toxic material? Setting
up controls relative to the hazard present and requiring the use of personal
protective equipment is necessary. Authorities should confirm proper use of engineering
and administrative controls and ensure that material safety data sheets
are on site.
Bakken operators should perform chemical suspect monitoring and analysis,
watch for oil and gas contaminant suspects, repair leaks promptly, locate
safety showers and eye washes nearby and train workers on chemical hazards
and how to respond in an emergency.
contact us if you or a loved one have a workplace injury caused by chemical exposure.