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Protecting Workers in Oil & Gas Industry from Burn Injuries

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Burn injuries from fires and explosions are a major concern for the oil and gas industry. The risks are great for both employees and employers as reflected in a couple of recent incidences. Three oilfield workers in Colorado were injured last year when performing routine maintenance when a pipeline fire broke out. One of the workers died five days later. In another incident in 2016 a pipefitter at a South Dakota refinery suffered fatal burn injuries when ethanol spilled from a process pipe he was working on and was ignited by flames from nearby welding operations.

When these injuries occur, in addition to the severity of injuries and potential fatalities, the cost for treatment along with OSHA fines can cost a company millions of dollars, not to mention the reputational damage, lost productivity and higher Workers Compensation insurance premiums that ensue. According to the American Burn Association, a survivor with 40-60% body burn has an average hospital stay of 54 days, with costs averaging $780,000. With more severe injuries, the costs can be even higher. In the case of the South Dakota incident, OSHA fined the company $100,000, which included failure to provide proper protective clothing for the worker.

Preventing fires and explosions from taking place for oil and gas companies is an integral component of their risk management and safety programs.  Part of this includes ensuring that workers are wearing the proper flame-resistant (FR) clothing on the job and that the type of clothing selected is designed to address the hazards identified in the workplace and meets safety standards that apply for the work environment. Determining which FR apparel is best suited for the specific hazard and work environment is a significant task, but there are industry standards available to assist in this process. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) created guidelines and standards to aid the oil and gas industry.

In addition to protection, employers need to ensure that FR workwear is comfortable. If workers are uncomfortable in their FR clothing, they may not wear it consistently or correctly, which can detract from the safety benefits. If workers are too hot, for instance, they may be tempted to roll up their sleeves or unbutton their shirts, leaving areas of the skin exposed and vulnerable to burn injuries. Select products that are appropriate for temperature and weather conditions.

Care and maintenance of FR apparel is also important as it extends the life of the clothing—it is essential in allowing the garment to protect oneself to its fullest capability in the event of a fire. FR apparel should be well maintained, patched with the correct FR fabric when needed, and as clean as possible, because flammable contaminants can compromise its performance.

In the oil and gas industry, burn injuries can have devastating consequences. In following safe work practices and implementing an effective FR clothing program, firms can significantly reduce the likelihood that a serious injury will occur. 

RPS specializes in providing the oil and gas industry with custom insurance solutions, including Workers’ Compensation.

Sources: EHS Today, Occupational Health & Safety

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