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Follow Safety Procedures at Well Sites

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently fined a Caribbean refinery for failing to protect its workers from the hazardous chemicals following flare incidents. The refinery faces $259,000 in fines for 20 violations.

Companies must meet federal requirements for workplace chemical safety standards that can endanger workers.

In the case mentioned above, the company failed to compile the necessary information on process equipment and technology, including its safe operating limits, relief system design and the consequences of deviating from those limits.

Companies can avoid such violations by completing a pre-startup safety review and by:

  • Preventing process equipment from operating in deficient conditions
  • Inspecting equipment before returning it to service and introducing more hazardous chemicals
  • Developing and implementing operating procedures that address any conditions that deviate from normal operations.

“There are inherent hazards facing workers in facilities that process large quantities of flammable and toxic chemicals at high temperatures and pressures,” said OSHA Area Office Director Alfredo Nogueras, stationed in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. “Complying with OSHA’s Process Safety Management standard reduces those risks and protects workers. The number and increasing severity of the release incidents at the (refinery) shows us that (the company) was putting workers at risk by permitting serious deficiencies to exist with its process equipment and inadequate process safety management programs.”

Oil and gas drilling involves numerous materials and equipment, so it is critical to recognize and control hazards to prevent injuries and death. These hazards include:

  • Confined spaces
  • Vehicle collisions
  • Falls
  • Getting caught in or between equipment
  • High-pressure lines and equipment
  • Electrical and other hazardous energy

Confined Spaces

Workers at well sites are often required to work inside storage tanks, reserve pits and other excavated areas. As a result, they risk coming into contact with ignited vapors or gases and could suffer asphyxiation and other exposure hazards.

Vehicle Collisions

Wells are often located in remote areas and workers and equipment must be transported to the sites. Highway vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among oil and gas extraction workers.

According to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, roughly four of 10 workers killed in this industry are killed in a highway vehicle incident. OSHA has numerous publications available to companies to help them avoid such accidents.


Oil and gas workers often find themselves up high, working on platforms. OSHA requires fall protection to prevent falls from drilling platforms, masts and other elevated equipment. The agency lays out specific standards for general industry and construction in its fall protection guidelines.

Getting Caught in or Between Equipment

More than half of the fatalities at oil and gas extraction sites result from “struck-by/caught-in/caught-between” hazards. These hazards may involve cranes or derricks, hoists, moving vehicles, falling equipment and high-pressure lines.

OSHA offers multiple training opportunities and guidance in this area.

High-Pressure Lines and Equipment

Compressed gases and high-pressure lines are typically on well sites. Internal corrosion might result in line bursts, exposing workers to high-pressure hazards. When high-pressure lines fail, there is a risk of “struck-by” hazards.

Follow OSHA’s health topics page for more information.

Electrical and Other Hazardous Energy

When equipment is not designed and installed correctly, workers might be exposed to uncontrolled hydraulic, mechanical, electrical, or other hazardous energy sources.

OSHA’s Safety and Health Topics page offers a section on controlling hazardous energy.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.