Industrial Hygiene Within Oil & Gas Industry
At OHMS Industrial Hygiene, we believe effective Industrial hygiene within the oil & gas industry has always been an essential part of any offshore and onshore operation. It is vital to control the risks that are inherent within the industry, which is accomplished by establishing and implementing a comprehensive HSE Management Plan across the facility, affirming the principles by which operations are conducted.
NORM - Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials
Naturally occurring radioactive elements such as radium and thorium can accumulate at various stages of upstream and downstream oil and gas production. NORM within oil and gas production is commonly found in the form of waste products (ie. sludge, scrapings, and scale). These by-products can particularly be found within wellheads, separation equipment, pumps, tanks, and in the produced water treatment system.
Within the oil and gas workforce, workers can be at risk of radioactive hazards. To protect employees, health and safety controls and precautions are required, especially when maintenance activities are being carried out at the facility.
The name BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes) refers to a group of chemicals that occur naturally within natural gas and crude oil deposits. Each individual compound is harmful to humans, so as a combination, they present a significant hazard. These can become concentrated in sections of the facility such as the TEG Dehydration Plant (used to dry any natural gas or separator gas) or offgas from storage tanks (FPSOs).
The vapours need to be vented or flared, but there is the potential in an upset condition that these can be vented within the facility. Dissipation studies produced during the design phase should eliminate the risk, however, there is always potential for a localised release under certain upset conditions. It is prudent to have a plan in place to monitor any potential BTEX releases in conjunction with health and safety controls and precautions when carrying out maintenance.
A naturally occurring element, mercury can be found in high concentrations within certain areas of upstream and downstream oil and gas production. Mercury is a confirmed health risk for workers, the environment and can damage production equipment containing mercury reactive materials (eg. aluminium).
To manage the risk, procedures must be in place when interacting with at risk sections of the production chain, or when handling waste by-products contaminated with mercury.
Separators, sand removal, water treatment – maintenance with mercury contamination requires special protective suits and procedures. Waste needs to be bagged and sent to special waste disposal facilities that are designed to prevent mercury egress from the site. All equipment that is contaminated needs to be cleaned and bagged prior to maintenance – special facilities are required to capture the wash water and the vapours when cleaning the equipment.
A naturally occurring bacteria, Legionella has over 40 different strains, all of which pose a potential hazard to humans. Two diseases can be caused from contact with legionella; Pontiac Fever or the more dangerous and often fatal Legionnaires Disease.
Stagnant pipe water and water storage units on shipping vessels are the perfect breeding ground for legionella and Legionnaires disease is contactable when workers breathe in water droplets that contain the harmful bacteria.
All vessels into Australian ports are subject, by law, to an onboard inspection for any legionella bacteria that may be present.
ACM’s (Asbestos Contaminated Materials) were once commonplace throughout the offshore oil and gas industry. Offshore installations built before 1999 contain ACM’s and older facilities will most likely have higher risk materials such as boarding and lagging. Further examples of ACM’s likely to be found are brake linings, arc shields for electrical switchgear, gaskets and external sheeting.
- Ongoing maintenance of these facilities increase the risk of asbestos disturbance and therefore the risk of exposure is greater.
- The Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage (Safety) Regulations 2009 stipulates that ACM’s are prohibited at all facilities within the O&G industry.
As not all countries adhere to the same regulations, strict inspection and management plans need to be implemented to manage vessels and materials entering Australia from other countries.
Indoor Air Quality
Indoor air quality is a growing issue within the workplace. Reduced airflow and an improvement the seals of buildings have increased the concentration of indoor pollutants including; volatile organic compounds, nitrogen dioxide and microorganisms. Poor outside ambient air quality can also contribute to indoor air quality issues.
Accumulation of pollutants can trigger a range of illnesses including; sick building syndrome (when the general population within the building are complaining of chronic health issues that are resolved when removed from the building), sensory and skin irritations, neurotoxic symptoms or hypersensitivities.
In an indoor environment, the transmission of microorganisms (bacteria and viruses) between individuals increases which can result in illness and lost productivity. Another microorganism which can cause issues in indoor environment are fungi. When given optimal growth conditions, fungi will create visible mould within buildings. An increase in the concentration of mould in indoor environments can have health consequences including towards the respiratory system and allergies. Depending on the severity of the mould contamination, the controls needed may differ.
Within the oil and gas industry, there is a risk that indoor and ambient outdoor air quality could contribute to poor air quality in the workplace. Identification of air pollutants within the indoor environment is important to help create a strategy to manage and reduce human exposure to health risks.
Appropriate ventilation management strategies are important for dilution of harmful pollutants in conjunction with ongoing monitoring of pollutants deemed as being at risk within the environment.