Industrial Hygiene Within Oil & Gas Industry
Effective industrial hygiene within the oil and gas industry is an integral part of any offshore and onshore field development plan. Due to its isolated offshore locations and complex onshore gas plants and refineries, the magnitude of risk exposure to personnel is significant. Health exposures such as working in confined spaces, exposure to hazardous chemicals, hydrocarbon gases and vapours (HGV’s), noise, and extreme temperatures and structures are just some examples of the health risks posed by working in the industry. The implementation of a robust HSE Management Plan across all stages of the industry cycle is therefore vital to protect all workers and visitors alike.
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 (i.e. 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.
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 (e.g. 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.
ACMs (asbestos containing material) were once commonplace throughout the offshore oil and gas industry. Offshore installations built before December 31st 2003 are likely to contain ACMs and older facilities will most likely have higher risk materials such as boarding and lagging. Further examples of ACMs 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 ACMs 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.
Heat stress occurs when the body’s means of controlling its internal temperature starts to fail. As well as air temperature, factors such as work rate, humidity radiant heat and clothing worn while working may lead to heat stress.
The effects of exposure to heat may range from a level of discomfort, through to a life-threatening condition such as heat stroke A mild or moderate heat stress even my adversely affect performance and safety. As the heat stress approached human tolerance limits, the risk of heat related disorders increases.
OHMS Hygiene has a team of experienced consultants who can conduct heat stress risk assessments using established heat stress indices. A comprehensive report which outlines recommendations to reduce the risk to as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP) will be provided to help our clients mitigate their risks to assist on the journey to industry best practice.
Water Quality Assessments
The potential health impacts from poorly managed potable water can be severe, which can be enhanced at remote locations. Hence there is a requirement for a workplace to ensure that a supply of clean, cool, drinking water is provided for, and is readily accessible to, anyone at the workplace.
Water quality management plans provide an overview of the water systems and utilise risk-based management, assuring drinking water quality and the protection of personnel health through the adoption of preventative management practices that encompass all steps in water production from procurement to consumer to waste wate
Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) and Radio Frequency (RF)
Exposure to EMF typically occur in close proximity to electrical power lines, transformers and magnetic separators. The higher the voltage on an electrical system, the stronger the magnetic field produced. Exposure to RF typically occur in proximity to radar emissions, radio communication towers, cell antennas and wireless networks.
OHMS Hygiene has a team of experienced consultants who can conduct EMF and RF assessments and will compare the results against industry guidelines. A comprehensive report which outlines recommendations to reduce the risk to as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP) will be provided to help our clients mitigate their risks to assist on the journey to industry best practice.