Following the deaths of nine workers over the past five years, including six in 2014, a group representing two federal government agencies and the oil and gas extraction and production industry has released an alert calling attention to hazards associated with tank gauging, sampling, and fluid transfer activities at oil and gas well sites.

According to the OSHA National STEPS Alliance, four fatalities occurred during gauging of crude oil tanks and five occurred during sampling of tank contents by pumpers or truckers. Most of the deaths occurred in North Dakota and Colorado, which experienced three each. In addition to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is represented on the Alliance.

The alert, available at http://www.nationalstepsnetwork.org/docs_tank_gauging/T ankHazardInfographicFinal04_22_15.pdf, explains that opening thief hatches of storage tanks can lead to a rapid release of high concentrations of hydrocarbon gases and vapors. This, in turn, can result in very low oxygen levels and toxic and flammable conditions around and over the hatch.

Recent reports have documented fires or explosions. Workers also have described symptoms of dizziness, fainting, headache, and nausea from inhalation of volatile petroleum hydrocarbons, according to the alert. However, by taking proper precautions, tank gauging, thieving, and fluid handling can be performed safely, the alert states.

The document also outlines the responsibility of employers to conduct exposure and hazard assessments, provide proper training, and consider using engineering controls. Employers are advised to verify that sub-contractors follow proper safety procedures also. Employees, in turn, are instructed to follow their employers’ safety procedures, wear appropriate personal protective devices, attend training, and watch out for potential ignition sources.

The poster reminds employees to stop work and ask questions if they are not certain how to perform a task safely or if they believe the job is unsafe.

The National STEPS Network is an association of regional exploration and production safety networks. The Network was founded in Texas in 2003 by OSHA and the industry to try and reduce fatalities and injuries there. It has grown to include 22 independent regional networks serving 20 producing states. The Alliance between OSHA, NIOSH, and the industry was formalized in December 2014.