Oil is a risky business, from spending billions of dollars looking for it, buying and using the drilling equipment, refining hazardous chemicals, waste management, transporting and storing the oil and gas, commodities and stock markets, but most of all the biggest risk is to human life.
That's because oil and gas are extremely volatile substances; have you seen the small sign at petrol stations requesting you not to use your mobile phone in case it causes an explosion? I have never seen a reported incident of this happening but the risk is still there.
Some of the common factors that contribute to major accidents in the petroleum industry are as follows:
- A lack of commitment to safety by operational managers, the theoretical world of drilling from the realities of the oil field can be very different.
Common sense says you do not smoke near a highly flammable substance, but did you know that most oil rigs have a smoking area as standard.
Also loose and ill fitting clothing could get caught in the machinery causing amputations and loss of life, but many times I have seen oil workers wearing poorly fitting overalls.
However the pressure to supply the constant demand for oil can mean managers are more focused on supply than the safety of their employees.
- Lack of change procedures, it is vital to carefully design procedures for change management. This will involve setting out procedures and policies for everyone to follow. Also when new business practices and Government policies need to be implemented the change procedures also need revision to understand the risks within the workplace.
- Incomplete risk analysis, safety should be built into a system from the very beginning. However accidents often occur because a company has paid more attention to disaster recover rather than prevention. In order to minimise leaks from pipelines is it better to send oil in immediately and clear up any spillage or to pressure test the pipes first?
Is the oil company constructing the pipeline on an unstable geological foundation prone to earthquake tremors? Risk analysis is a vital part of preparedness and is paramount for new oil producing countries.
When an individual or company is involved in an industrial accident, the following question should be asked, are there lessons to be learned?
A failure to learn from past incidents is becoming a major stumbling block for the health and safety record of the petroleum industry. A number of high profile tanker ruptures have continued to be shown on television because not every company has implemented and not every country has insisted on double and triple hull tankers.
Oil field workers are still suffering serious injuries when a blow back occurs. This is a situation where the oil pressure is higher than the weight of the mud holding it down inside the bore hole. The oil blows out with such force that it cannot be contained by the pressure values and ignites causing a huge fireball. Such situations often happen when the rig worker monitoring the mud flow has a loss of concentration because they are fatigued, negligent or leave their post.
- Prevention of risk, this is the key to maintaining a safe environment for all concerned.
Firstly procedures need to established, enforced and regularly reviewed within the workplace.
Regular checks should be taken around the rig.
All staff should be trained to follow health and safety procedure and management need to have a culture of promoting safety before profits.
Oil exploration, production and refining will always be a dangerous profession, but with proper understanding of the risks and procedures to reduce those risks the chances of accidents and injuries can be minimised.
Brian Sallery, is the Principal at the
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