Talk about dangerous work.

When it comes to always working around flammable materials like oil or natural gas – adding in the pressure that those liquids are under as oil and gas companies pump the ground to extract that “black gold” – and there are very few occupations out there that are so dangerous on a daily basis.

[Image courtesy of Flickr user Robert Nunnally via a Creative Commons license] Thanks to fracking and other advancements, there has been an oil and gas boom in North America. And with increased hiring and production, it is important for the oil and gas industry to re-evaluate safety protocols that might have gotten outdated from the last energy boom.

[Image courtesy of Flickr user Robert Nunnally via a Creative Commons license]Thanks to fracking and other advancements, there has been an oil and gas boom in North America. And this recent boom has brought the inherent dangers of working with flammable gases and liquids in pressurized environments beck into the forefront, especially when it comes to worker safety.

How dangerous? Well, we have all heard of Murphy’s Law, right? Anything that can go wrong, usually will? In the oil and gas industry, there is very rarely any “small” incidents. If something goes wrong, it can easily go very wrong and lead to serious injuries or death – there is a good chance of significant lost time regardless of the incident severity, never mind death being an nearly equal possibility.

Refinery explosions are not common, but we do read about them. And we also hear about some minor mistake which results in a worker getting knocked out by a heavy piece of metal or being killed by a poor release of pressure from an oil pump, or the pressure from an oil derrick.

This is Murphy’s Law on steroids.

As was mentioned in the post last weekOSH Canada magazine editor Jean Lian took a look at what three western Canada provinces are doing to address the very important issue of worker safety in the oil and gas industry in the wake of the Petroleum Safety Conference in Banff, Alberta, this spring.

And with so many companies involved in the oil and gas industry in Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, there is a lot of work that safety officers and government safety officials need to do to clean up the injury and fatality rates. However, there just aren’t enough resources to be able to address all the companies.

So each of the provinces are coming up with their own programs that focus on 100 companies that have higher-than-average fatality rates or injury rates at their work sites. In Saskatchewan alone over a four-year span, there were an estimated $33 million in losses, 13 deaths and 300 man-years of time lost (65,000 work hours) over those four years. That translates into 75 workers each year losing a year’s worth of work time (2,080 hours each).

There is a bold initiative in that province called “Mission: Zero.” While it is not realistic for every company, the provincial government is working with some of the companies who have the highest injury and incident rates and working on a longer-term program to cut down on the numbers of incidents and injuries, which they hope will bring down the overall average incident rate in the oil and gas industry in particular.

One of the first things that is being claimed to help in getting buy-in is the disincentive of the Saskatchewan Employment Act, passed in 2014. That piece of legislation imposed some new, harsher fines and penalties on companies and individuals who were not compliant with safety rules and regulations. The new penalties have doubled, with companies liable for up to $1.5 million in penalties, while individuals may face as much as $500,000 in fines.

Isn’t it interesting how much more quickly companies and individuals will get engaged when their checkbooks may end up lighter>

Anyway, in Alberta, officials have been implementing an 18-month-long initiative called the Strategic Inspection Program, which includes 10 companies which have injury and death rates that are above the industry average. With this program, regular workplace inspections and regular discussions about how to improve safety will be considered  for each of the companies based on their make up and their mission within the industry.

one of the issues in the oil and gas industry (which can often be found on construction sites as well) is the idea of having workers on the same site at the same time working for two or more employers. This can also lead to increased risks whe some workers are working under one set of safety rules and other workers are working under another set of rules, and the workers themselves are overlapping in the same space.

This is where the Prime Contractor Regulations kick in. These regulations are designed to create worksite uniformity of safety rules, as determined by a designated “prime contractor.” The prime contractor, which is determined by the owner of the worksite (or it will be the owner itself by default if no prime contractor is named)  would be the one in charge of the existing safety protocols and guidelines on the worksite for which all employers and employees on the site must follow in accordance with the PCRs as well as local and federal laws.  The goal is clearly to eliminate confusion on a worksite, to have uniformity in hwo all workers on the site must behave when it comes to safety regardless of their employer, and eliminates prime responsibility questions in case of an incident.

Next up, we’ll discuss one of the very common sights in the oil and gas industry – worker camps, and the inherent dangers they present and what those at the Petroleum Safety Conferences have discussed regarding these worksite extensions – “towns within towns.”