Two government health and safety agencies have joined forces to produce a new hazard alert on the danger facing oil and gas industry workers who manually gauge or sample fluids on production and flowback tanks.

Health and Safety Risks for Workers Involved in Manual Tank Gauging and Sampling at Oil and Gas Extraction Sites explains that the risk associated with opening tank hatches to gauge or sample hydrocarbon levels manually arises from exposure to hydrocarbon gases and vapors, oxygen-deficient atmospheres, and fires and explosions. The 13-page publication, a joint effort by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, also outlines 10 preventative steps encompassing engineering controls, work practices, and personal protective equipment.

The two agencies have identified nine deaths that took place from 2010-2014 while workers manually gauged or sampled production tanks. All occurred at crude oil production tanks where the victim was either performing tank gauging or fluid sample collection at an open vehicle hatch. At the time of the accident, the employee was unprotected from high concentrations of hydrocarbon gases and vapors or displacement of oxygen and either was working alone or was not being observed by a coworker.

Noting that oil and gas extraction “is extremely dangerous work with high rates of workplace fatalities” and that every death is preventable, OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels said in a February news release, “It’s critically important that we all work together to make sure that oil and gas extraction workers are aware of life-threatening exposure to hydrocarbon gases and vapors and low oxygen atmospheres, and that they are protected.”

NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard commented that oil and gas extraction work provides new opportunities, as well as new risks, adding, “This joint alert highlights the importance of remaining vigilant about the safety and health of our nation’s workers as our nation changes and adapts to these new opportunities.”

The alert supplements another tank hazard alert released last year by the National Service, Transportation, Exploration & Production Safety Network (and featured in our newsletter). We can assist employers seeking advice on the legal implications of adopting government safety and health recommendations.

In another development in the oil and gas industry, OSHA announced in February the launch of its “Step-Up for Safety” initiative to raise awareness among employers and workers about hazards in oil and gas exploration. During step-up events, which began in mid-February and will extend through March, employers around the country will take time out to conduct site inspections, safety training, and other activities, the agency said.