The one thing that pops into my mind when I hear someone talking about American being great is our ability to develop technology to overcome some of our most difficult problems. A great example would be the introduction of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling techniques which has allowed us to tap into huge reserves of oil and natural gas once viewed as being untouchable.
Nowhere has this technological marvel had more of an impact than in the Bakken Oil Fields of North Dakota. Fracturing and horizontal drilling has created thousands of good paying jobs and has expanded the economies of governments on all levels. The North Dakota oil boom started in 2004 and continues today with a record number of barrels being produced in July of this year.
Although the oil industry has had a huge positive impact, oil production work can be dangerous. There is a multitude of dangers that workers face while performing their daily activities including shock, electrocution, and arc flash. For the past several years Rozel has been proud to participate in ensuring the safety and health of the hard-working men and women of the Bakken Oil Fields by providing expert incident energy analysis’ (arc flash studies) and labeling of thousands of oil pad, gas, and compressor station pieces of electrical equipment. Rozel has also provided high quality, equipment specific NFPA 70E based electrical safety training to many oil field electricians, instrument technicians, and electrical equipment operators
Essential Oil Field Electrical Safety Practices
As many as five workers per day are admitted to hospital burn units every day in the U.S. due to burns sustained during an arc flash. These injuries are easily prevented if exposed employees have and use the properly rated personal protective equipment.
Electrical equipment commonly found at Well Pads, Compressor Stations, Water Treatment Facilities, and other upstream and midstream locations can produce enough thermal incident energy to seriously injure an employee. Therefore, it is vital to calculate the incident energies available at each location. Having an experienced professional engineer perform an incident energy analysis (arc flash study) of the equipment and then applying the required arc flash warning label is the first step in reducing the risk of an arc flash burn injury.
Identify Shock Hazards of all types
OSHA maintains very clear guidance when it comes to shock hazards by requiring that both qualified and unqualified workers be trained to understand how close to an exposed, energized, or potentially energized, circuit part or conductor they can get before they run the risk of a shock injury or electrocution. Unqualified workers must remain outside of a shock protection boundary known as the limited approach boundary. Qualified workers can only cross into a restricted approach boundary if they are properly insulated through the use of voltage rated insulating gloves or other means.
One of the most dangerous and often overlooked oil field shock hazards is overhead power lines. Because oil rig equipment is tall, it can contact power lines operating at high voltages. When a metal object such as a crane touches or nears a power line the electricity flows through the equipment to the ground. Crane operators, ground crews touching or in the area of the equipment, can receive a severe shock due to step or touch potential. Workers need to be trained to identify all types of shock hazards and maintain safe approach distances.
Electrical hazards can vary based on the type of work employees are performing. It is important to understand that only qualified employees can perform work on energized electrical equipment. The word qualified means that the person in question has the technical ability and has received formal electrical safety training. Don’t assume that because an electrician has 30 years of experience, or that they work for a reputable electrical contractor that they understand and can apply the required safety-related work practices. Documented safety training is a must for all oil industry electrical workers.
It is also worth noting that some employees may need to be qualified to perform certain tasks that expose them to electrical hazards. For instance, a mechanic who operates electrical disconnect switches as part of a lockout/tagout process may be exposed to an arc flash hazard. He or she needs to receive some basic electrical safety training, so they can identify the hazard and take appropriate actions.
Electrical Safety Training Required for:
• Electrical contractors
• Operators or Employees who switch electrical equipment on or off
• Instrument technicians
Obtain and Wear PPE
The next step will be to obtain shock and arc flash hazard personal protective equipment. Shock protection PPE such as insulating gloves will need to be selected based on the voltage level that employees will be exposed to. Arc flash PPE will need to be rated for the incident energies identified during the arc flash study and posted on the equipment warning labels.
OSHA has requirements for workers in the oil and gas industry to wear FR clothing during certain phases of production, including drilling and servicing. For this reason it’s a common mandate from operating companies that FR clothing be worn at all times while on an oil pad. If you are using FR for electrical work ensure there is an arc rating (ATPV or cal/cm^2) and that the rating is greater than the hazard you are exposed to. Luckily shirts and pants are readily available in North Dakota at Home of Economy, Walmart, Cenex, Kum & Go, etc. Proper face/ hand protection typically requires finding a supplier though.
Administrative controls keep employees safe by following written rules or instructions such as Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) or electrical safety standards when performing their work. Studies show that when rules, and or, procedures are adhered to when performing tasks, error and accident rates are dramatically reduced. Don’t make, or allow your employees to guess. Write down what you expect them to do if a crane they are erecting is with a few feet of an energized power line, how to properly verify the absence of voltage, identify who is qualified to perform electrical work. These are just a few things that must be included in the companies written electrical safety program
Follow the link below to an OSHA safety hazards associated with oil and gas extraction activities informational page that discusses oil production hazards, the applicable OSHA standards, and suggestions to prevent injuries or fatalities.