In the oilfield, many of your duties are performed alone. Therefore, it is vital to follow the proper oil & gas safety procedures put in place by the state and federal governments, as well as the specific methods required by the company you work for. In order to maintain the best personal safety you can while on duty, you should always keep these five important topics in mind.
Common Sense and Good Judgement is Key in Oilfield Safety
Working independently is vastly different than working in a group. You have to think ahead, and use both good judgment and common sense. As a lease pumper, you need to know what problems you can and cannot address on your own; as well as what risks you should or should not take. While threatening situations can occur, lease pumpers should never take any dangerous risks unless it is to avoid serious injury or death. Remember saving time is never worth your personal safety.
When you’re used to working alone, common sense well alert you to plan ahead. This small tactic can not only save you time; but it can also be the difference between something serious happening, or a quick and easy repair. This is especially true if you want to be successful as a lease pumper. There are a wide variety of situations that can occur every day, and you need to prepare for different contingencies to help soften the blow. For instance, ‘What do you do if you experience problems in a remote area of the lease?’, ‘Do you keep your spare tire’s air checked?’, or ‘Do you have all the proper first-aid supplies on hand?’ These are the kind of things that will help you to avoid potentially dangerous situations later on down the road.
Lease pumpers spend a lot of time driving to locations across the lease; so it’s not a matter of if you will get a flat tire, so much as when. To prepare for this common issue, lease pumpers should make it a regular habit to check their spare tire. Other common safety practices can include:
- having two batteries mounted under the hood for jump starting lease engines,
- walking around something, rather than under it,
- having a small compressor (that can run off your car battery) to pump low or flat tires,
- have a spare set of vehicle keys (for in case you lock your keys inside the vehicle),
- and more.
Every oil worker should carry a portable phone or radio. Communication is key to working alone; and if a problem occurs, you have to be able to contact the necessary help. Always have contingencies set for any situation. For instance, knowing the location of the nearest public phone or house can be invaluable in the event your phone or radio loses power, becomes damaged, or you need emergency assistance in any way.
Oil & Gas Safety Topic 1: Avoid Taking Unnecessary Risks
Taking unnecessary chances or risks is the leading cause for lease pumpers to develop issues while working alone. For instance, if a leak is found at a coupling where it is only allowing a small amount of gas to escape; a quick fix would be to mount a collar leak clamp, which generally would take a lease pumper less than 15 minutes to complete. However, not all instances come complication-free. Circumstances can (and do) arise that will delay your process. This could include: trouble finding a suitable clamp or tool, a wrench drop causing sparks to ignite the gas, or a wide range of other options. Due to this, you should always shut in wells, and/or bleed the pressure off the line(s) before attempting any installations or repairs. Many major accidents where oil workers have died were the result of what initially started as small leaks or repairs. In most of these situations, the leaks or repairs were viewed as too small to pose any significant risks; thus chances were taken, and this carelessness ultimately resulted in the death of the field worker.
Every accident that occurs is made up of bad decisions and unfortunate circumstances. No one was around to perform first-aid, if only the wind had been blowing that day, or if the gas hadn’t of accumulated; every situation is different, and a million and one things can change the outcome. While a lease pumper doesn’t need to constantly fear death to do their job, they do need to evaluate every action they can (or cannot) make, and determine how it impacts the potential outcome. If an action appears risky, the worker should always weigh their other options, and/or obtain the required help to reduce the risks to safer levels.
Topic 2 for Oil and Gas Safety: Keep Safety an Essential Part of the Job
A common view about safety is that it is like a winter coat. Once the weather is cold, a person will put it on; but when it gets warmer, they feel less inclined to use it. This is similar to work. When a dangerous situation comes along on during your duties, people become more concerned about personal safety. However, just because the crisis is averted, doesn’t mean safety concerns should disappear. A safe attitude should carry over into everything we do; whether you’re working, fishing, or driving home for the night.
The way a lease pumper drives is often a good reflection on their attitude towards work safety. For example, speed limits are set as a safety precaution for motorists concerning how fast it is safe for a driver to go on a given road in good conditions (dry roads, fair weather, normal traffic, etc.). During the optimum weather conditions, many drivers will feel going a few miles over the speed limit isn’t a big deal; and in most cases, this is true as long as the road maintains ideal conditions. Unfortunately, these ideal situations can cause a person’s attention to wonder, such as a lease pumper thinking about all the tasks they have ahead of them for the day, making the driver no longer as alert as he was before. A light scatter rainstorm can create wet pavement in an area up ahead, an oncoming care-without warning, or a blown tire; there are hundreds of possibilities that can occur in the blink of an eye. However, by this point it no longer matters what happened or why; it is about the crash or injury.
Every year people are severely injured over situations that could have easily been avoided. Things like driving while reading a newspaper, talking on the phone, or other circumstances that became more important than the person’s personal safety. To be a successful lease pumper, you need to make the aspect of safety as essential to your job as when you are driving a car.
Oilfield Safety Topic of Discussion 3: Know the Correct Industry Colors, Markers, Notices, and Warnings
Just like our roadways have a variety of signs with different shapes, colors and meanings; the oil industry has their own standards of information used for providing information. Over the years, the appearance and meaning of the sign have been refined and standardized until every color, shape, and size used could indicate something from a distance (even before the person can read the exact lettering). Typically these signs offer information about a potential danger, equipment or supply information, location of first-aid or fire extinguishers, or other safety related information; with most lease sites marked with general signage used uniquely to the oil industry.
Figure 1. Examples of signs you may see on a lease. (Courtesy Marathon Safety Department, Iraan, Texas)
Both signs for warnings and notices provide useful information for the lease pumper and anyone else who visits the lease site; and are categorized into six major areas: Caution, Danger, Notice, Radiation, Safety, and Warning. Although there are specific color combinations used for each of the different sign categories, some standard sign information is also used, such as the white background with the words “KEEP OUT” in black lettering. Other common identifiers include:
Caution signs are typically installed where danger is not always present or is not likely to lead to a serious injury or death.The coloring is typically white or black lettering on a yellow background. These types of signs can include:
- Low Head Room
- Wide Turning Trucks
- Step Down
Danger signs usually have white lettering on a red background, with the information area having a white background with black lettering. These signs indicate a serious condition or situation that can result in serious injury or even death.This can include:
- Hard Hat Area
- High Pressure Gas Line
- High Voltage
- No Smoking
Notices typically have a blue background with white lettering in the header, with a white information background with black lettering. These notices typically provide advisory information such as:
- Authorized Personnel Only
- Keep Doors Closed
- Tornado Shelter
The heading for a radiation sign is typically based on the present warning. Headers could read: Radiation, Danger, or Warning. Common conditions described for the industry include:
- Radiation Hazard
- Radioactive Waste
- X-Ray Equipment in Use
Safety signs typically have a header with a green background and white lettering, with the information area having black on white. These signs generally remind workers to practice good safety practices, such as:
- Keep This Area Clean
- Safety Begins with You
- Wash Your Hands
Warning signs are typically on an orange background in both the header and information areas, and use black lettering. These signs indicate a situation that could lead to a permanent injury, but in most cases, not death. Examples could include:
- Do Not Use Two-Way Radios
- Eye Protection Required
- Hard Hat Area
Although the majority of safety signs have been standardized over the years, lease pumpers are likely to see variations of the different areas described. For example, certain headers may have in color. Ultimately the risk presented determines the look of the sign, and some signs have been known to have the same information, only different headers. It doesn’t matter where you are on the lease; at some point, you will come into contact with industry signs. Common options found at the tank battery or well site can include:
- Air Pack Required
- Authorized Personnel Only
- Do Not Enter
- Equipment Starts Automatically
- H2S Poisonous Gas
- Hard Hat Required
- High Voltage
- No Smoking
Oilfield Safety Meeting Topic 4: Wear the Proper Gear
When working on a lease, there are dangers all around you. Generally most companies will provide you (and any other employee or visitor) with the required safety equipment needed on site. The necessary gear can vary depending upon the specific safety equipment requirement guidelines set by the state and/or federal regulations. Some of the more essential equipment used, include:
- Breathing Device
There are several different types of breathing apparatuses in field use. Generally, most lease pumpers carry their own personal air mask while working on the job. Some lease stores are known to stock additional air packs on the lease for personnel or visitors.
- Eye Wash Station
Eye wash stations are available around the lease in areas where there are high risks for eye injuries from chemicals or small particles. Workers should be aware of the different risks for eye injuries, as severe damage can occur in only a few short seconds. For instance, when gauging a tank and the lease pumper gets his or her eyes exposed to the hot gases rushing up out of the tank; a common reaction is to turn away into the cooler air. However, this will only close the pores and trap the gas inside your eyes; causing a painful eye experience for the next 24 hours or until the gas has the chance to escape or diffuse into the body. Along with knowing where the eye wash stations are located, lease pumpers should also keep an eye wash solution and lubricant within their first-aid kit.
Figure 2. Example of an Eye Wash Station
Goggles are highly recommending when gauging hydrogen sulfide-producing atmospheric vessels or when a vapor recovery unit has several ounces of pressure inside it; and are mandatory during any situation where you may experience flying projectiles.
- Hearing Protection
Earmuffs are mandatory for workers in situations where they may experience loud noises. Long-term exposure to these noises can cause damage to your hearing, or even interfere with your sense of balance.
- Spark-Proof Tools
These specialized tools are used to reduce the risk of creating sparks that could ignite a fire in an explosive atmosphere. They are typically very expensive and made out of some form of brass. Most lease pumpers do not carry many spark-proof tools, and commonly only have a hammer and a small adjustable wrench on hand.
The exact types of safety equipment used should be determined by what type of equipment will make the job safer. For example, some lease pumpers utilize back protection belts for those who are required to do a great deal of lifting; while others only use the appropriate safety equipment for their current work situations. However, typically the company you work for will provide you will all the safety equipment needs believed necessary for their lease pumpers.