Maintaining and enhancing worker safety

Published:  29 April, 2015

The oil and gas industry is recognised internationally as one that continually strives to make worker safety a priority. Monitoring, evaluating, updating and improving the systems, processes and equipment used daily are critical elements of this. Stuart Turnbull, interim European sales director at Honeywell Safety Products, highlights the key safety issues to consider as part of the wider engineering and maintenance procedures carried out on platforms.

Given the sheer volume of offshore hazards, this approach to continual assessment, monitoring and use of the latest safety equipment is reflected in the latest offshore figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)1. 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. But accidents do still happen.

Everyday activities such as maintenance, construction and deck operations account for 70% of major injuries on rigs, with ‘struck by’, slips, trips and falls, handling and working at height being the main causes2. Additionally despite a focus on reducing the amount of major Hydrocarbon Releases (HCR) achieving positive results, minor releases still increased by about 20%3 in 2013/14

So what are some of the key issues to consider?

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, ensuring protective eyewear is compliant with EN166 and associated eye protection standards covering protective spectacles, goggles and visors is important. Safety spectacles with extended wraparound frames improve protection and peripheral vision. Added features such as flexible width sizes, adjustable nose bridge and ratcheting temple hinges, enable the lens angle and the fit to be customised by the wearer. Anti-fog lenses help preserve vision when exertion, heat and humidity exist.

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

When it comes to head protection, hard hats must conform to the EN 397: 2012 standard for industrial helmets, complying against impact and penetration tests. The higher the number of suspension points (the support frame within the hardhat) the better – as these improve comfort and help spread the energy of an impact.

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

Out-maneuvering slips, trips and falls

Rig floors are frequently wet – either from weather conditions or the fluids used to wash them down - making slips and subsequent trips and falls common hazards. In addition to physical protection from protective toe caps, steel or strengthened textile midsoles and enhanced ankle protection, consider comfort, flexibility, stability, abrasion and high slip resistance. Uppers should be manufactured from a water resistant or water-proof material – ideally using smooth leather. And given the potential for cold environments, consider thermal linings.

Check coefficient of friction (CoF) test values. The higher the CoF, 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 these found on oil rigs.

Breathe easily

Respiratory protection is critical when it comes to hydrocarbon exposure. Devices stored in deck areas should be 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.

Gloves are required to 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.

For mechanical protection 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 provide specialist cut protection from EN388 level 1 to 5. Some benefit from the addition of ‘rubberised-armour’ on the back of the hand for enhanced impact protection.

Arresting falls from height

Working at height provides some of the greatest dangers on rigs, for example when climbing derrick or offset ladders. Personal Fall Protection Equipment (PFPE) covers three main areas. 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).

The PFPE system includes three physical parts – 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 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 transferring from the derrick ladder to the board or basket.

Fall arrest equipment needs to 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 ensuring pre-use inspections are undertaken before every use is essential.

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.

All safety programmes – both the overall safety strategy and the solutions deployed – should be regularly reviewed through proactive testing and using the latest PPE technology and solutions.

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