Mitigating Risks

Hand safety in the oil and gas industry

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The Petroleum Industry has undergone a historic boom, with new technology coming in place. The employment in the oil and gas industry is growing time and again and the jobs in this sector are one of the most dangerous and hazardous. Together with occupational risks, there arise safety risks which include bodily injury to fingers and hands. These are the most vulnerable physical parts which are easily prone to risks and dangers.

Finger and hand injuries are regularly featured in petroleum companies’ incident records. They make up to 50% of the accidents in the sector. As per the 2014 statistics issued by the International Association of Drilling Contractors, 43% of the recorded incidents on exploration and production rigs were comprised of just the injuries related to hand and fingers. Due to which, the companies involved in the oil and gas exploration and production industry are employing more injury prevention strategies.

“43% of the recorded incidents on the exploration and production rigs were comprised of hand and fingers injuries”

These kinds of risks are included in the occupational hazards in the petroleum industry. The hazards are omnipresent, ranging from upstream to midstream and downstream as well. The workers are prone to come into contact with the heavy equipment, chains, pipes, and flash fires, which may result in accidents. Despite the regulations with regards to personal protective materials, the risks are high.

The workmen in such a dangerous environment deserve better safety and protection. The industry must adopt specific standards and regulations that should mandate the following:

  • Educating the workforce about the risks and how to employ safe practices
  • Usage of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) which shall start with requisite hand protection

Hazards such as struck by objects or being caught between dangerous equipment as well as exposure to heat, flares, fires and chemicals, cause inherent bodily harm, which is long-lasting.

The companies are obliged to conduct a proper risk assessment and thereby afford the employees a chance to understand how the risks can be avoided and mitigated. This can minimise finger and hand injuries. The company should prioritise the minimisation of exposing the workmen to unnecessary risks.

It is pertinent to note that technology has advanced in this industry where injuries can be said to have been reduced. The technology used is such as pipe handling via remote control in the case of oil and gas pipe drillings.

Introduction of advanced expertise and technology

There are kinds of injuries which have witnessed reduction when the technology is put to use. These technologies consist of remote-control pipe handling systems in the exploration and production rigs. One of the significant changes is separating the human touch from the machinery, while still controlling the operation and thereby improving the safety standards in the industry.

One of many examples of these technologies is the “Iron Derrickman”. It is installed on the drilling oil rigs where it is carried out with the elimination of the necessity of personnel above the derrick and floor below on the floor of the platform. This further results in a rapid reduction of the risks which are exposed during the handling of the pipes and rigs. One of the other methods is remote top drive technology, which is undertaken via the hands-free case.

The petroleum companies operating in international waters are under an obligation to comply with the regulatory requirements that stipulate the usage of remotely operated and unmanned vehicular equipment. However, it is essential to take into consideration that this advanced technological equipment will create dangers to humans and in a specific event, these significant accidents have taken place – collisions between these uncrewed vehicles and personnel as well as between structures and with the equipment itself.

In spite of increased and enhanced awareness amongst the workers and improvement in the training of the employers within the industry, the number of injuries involving hands keeps on increasing. This trend is evident everywhere, since these risks are inherent in all workplaces.

According to one occupational health and safety magazine in the oil and gas industry, the majority of incidents are related to hands, arms and fingers. It can be easily construed that hands and fingers are not much prone to hazards, but the reality is that hands take most of the risks and dangers and suffer a lot of exploitation.

Generating awareness amongst the oil and gas companies is effective on its own where these organisations have come up with campaigns for health and safety where informative posters and animation will help the creation of a safe environment at the workplace. Companies need to approach the protection and security from within the organisation to combat the ever-changing and ever-increasing risks of injuries.

Chemical risks

Equipment and machines do indeed create hazards and dangers on-site, but the second contributor towards the injuries can be afforded to the corrosives, or more specifically, the chemicals. These chemicals are hazardous and irritant to the sensitive areas of the skin, which is highly capable of damages which can prolong for an extended period.

These corrosive chemicals cause hazardous risks and damages including hand blistering, skin loss and sometimes even the rehab therapists and the doctors would not be an able cure. The second hazard is the absolute temperature where the hands become so sensitive that protection is highly necessary during operations. There is also another risk of electrical burns and shocks which are common in day to day life and cause approximately a thousand deaths per year.

Preventing workplace injuries

It is of utmost importance that such damages must be avoided and taken care of. It mainly occurs due to incorrect positioning of the fingers or hands, which indicates that the safety training has not been taken place for the workers or the personnel. Another issue is the improper use of the tools. It is the job of the company to provide proper training and understanding of the practical applications of the devices.

Further, even improper outerwear contributes a lot to finger injuries. Such as continually wearing rings and cuffs, which can substantially hamper the proper operation of the machinery within the electrical zones.

The worker should be wearing gloves and protective clothing at all times, for example:

  • Rubber gloves and protective guards
  • Electrical gloves for electrical work
  • For cutting, use of steel mesh gloves
  • Limit the use of soft cotton or canvas gloves

Health and safety regulations in the UAE

While there are regulations governing health and safety in the different Emirates of the UAE, the oil and gas industry may, depending on the Emirate, have different requirements and legislation regulating the industry and safety of the workers.

The UAE is a nation that has attained global recognition in multiple areas; some of the most prominent of these include the oil and gas industry as well as the construction industry.

“companies need to approach protection from within the organisation to combat the risks of injuries”

There was a time not too long ago that the UAE contained a considerable proportion of the world’s cranes and was growing at a rate rarely seen, even in the modern world of construction marvels; this was during the nation’s construction boom era, and things have since calmed as the country has become significantly more developed. To this day, however, it is unlikely that one could visit the country and not see a considerable number of projects being developed and constructed.

The oil industry is also one who is and has remained of the utmost importance for decades, and while the UAE is a relatively small country in terms of population and size, it is still among the global leaders in terms of oil production. Oil accounts for a notably significant proportion of the nation’s GDP and large amounts of funding go into facilities involved in the extraction, refinery and production of the related products.

The essential Health and Safety regulations can be found in the UAE Labour Law (Federal Law Number 8 of 1980), though this legislation does not explicitly mention equipment and uniform related to health and safety. Chapter 5, Article 91, states that the employer must provide appropriate safety measures for hazards that may arise. This Article primarily concerns safety risks such as fire hazards for which sprinkler systems would be implemented and fire extinguishers provided in appropriate areas. While this is what is mentioned mainly, it can be assumed that the idea would extend to protective wear if such clothing or equipment should be required. The employees must wear any protective equipment provided by employers.

Further to this, medical examinations must be provided to employees who work around hazardous equipment or hazardous situations. These must be provided regularly and by the employer. Through this safety procedure, any issues with health and safety measures that are utilised may be identified and fixed for the future.

The UAE Federal Law Number 8 of 1980 concerning the Labour law mentions explicitly that the employer must create such an employee-friendly environment and provide with an adequate measure for their protection. Pursuant to that, the oil and gas companies have to make sure that they comply with the different permits and regulations that are brought about by the municipalities in the UAE. Also, it is the duty and responsibility of the municipalities to conduct regular compliance checks at such platforms and rigs.

Summary

Despite continuous efforts from the petroleum companies regarding safety and protection and hazard mitigation, the number of injuries increases year on year and no substantive solution is provided for its improvement. With repeated and unstoppable synergies from the companies as well as the employers, we can surely achieve the second step in human safety and protection and devise a strategy that is both work and employee friendly.

It can be undoubtedly said that improvement in technology for oil and gas drilling rigs can play a significant part in mitigating risks, but it is also important to note that there is equal involvement of the employees and the employers together achieving a similar goal of safety and risk and hazard mitigation.

Brought to you by

Tulika Kaul, STA

STA has always held steadfast to the vision of becoming the Middle East’s premier law firm. We are an International law firm with a multi-jurisdictional presence. Whether you need a lawyer in Abu Dhabi or the best UAE law firm, we are ready to serve your legal needs. From basic legal matters to more complex issues, we are the lawyers who always embrace a challenge by putting our expertise and skills in strategizing for our client’s benefit.