May 24, 2018

Fall Protection in the Oil and Gas Industry

Fall Protection in the Oil and Gas Industry

Few industries require more fall protection equipment than the oil and gas industry. In North America, between 2003 and 2013, more than 1,100 workers in the oil and gas sector were killed in workplace accidents, which is an average of more than a hundred deaths a year.

The work accomplished on an oil rig is considered one of the most at risk in the industry. The workers put in long hours and perform dangerous tasks in harsh environments. Regularly, the workers must climb a derrick ladder to access different areas of the rig. Consequently, many workers climb up to altitudes that are often 100 feet high, numerous times a day. The ladder may be greasy, icy or extremely narrow, which can lead to a fall. Ladders are often offset, forcing workers to switch from one fixed ladder to another. This transition may pose challenges to fall protection systems as workers must be protected the entire time.

Prolonged exposure to materials found in petrochemical plants may cause important health and safety risks to maintenance personnel. Furthermore, due to the corrosive effects of salt, and the constant motion of an oil rig at sea, the fall protection systems are subject to corrosive and caustic substances. The durability of materials is a crucial consideration during system design. The anti-spark synthetic cable systems are often required in petrochemical applications to minimize the risks of sparks and accidental explosions.

The fall arrest equipment must also be resistant to grease, dirt as well corrosive and abrasive substances, while remaining mobile, lightweight, portable and modular to accommodate different applications. It must not interfere with operations, particularly for workers who are wearing the equipment during a full work shift. Fortunately, a number of specialized items allow the workers to carry on their tasks safely on drilling and production platforms. For example, derrick harnesses have many D-rings so the worker can remain safely fastened at all times. The specialized self-retracting lifeline (SRL) gives the possibility to the workers to connect their back D-ring while climbing on the drilling tower.

Most companies working at sea choose to use a sealed self-retracting lifeline to prevent damages to the unit’s internal components. Designed with harsh environments in mind, each piece of personal protective equipment must be dustproof, protected from frost and corrosion resistant.

Fall protection equipment for oil rig workers

Safety harness

Being employed in the oil and gas industry often means working long hours in harsh conditions. For those reasons, comfort, flexibility and durability are key elements when selecting a safety harness. For example, an H safety harness with wide openings on both sides and horizontal leg straps provide greater comfort. Easy access buckles and flexible chest straps allow the user to adjust the harness for a perfect fit. Given the very nature of the platform where workers are often experiencing extreme weather and dirty jobs, the ideal harness is made of durable and waterproof straps in addition to being stain resistant.

Flexible front and back anchor points that are easy to fasten, including front strap loops and D-ring, will help the worker straighten up and avoid any lateral inclination. To facilitate safety inspections, make sure highly visible seams and fall indicators are integrated into the harness, pointing out if a fall occurred and that the harness is no longer suitable for use.

Lifelines and fall arrest systems

Depending on the platform configuration, workers must frequently use different ladders to ensure the maintenance of drilling towers. These ladders are more than 50 meters high and are regularly slippery and narrow which increases the risks. To adequately protect the workers, permanent fall arrest systems can be installed directly on the ladders. Another alternative is to use self-retracting lifelines permanently connected at the top of the ladder.

The rescue system

A compliant rescue and descending system must be fixed to an anchor with a nominal capacity of at least 1,360 kg (3,000 lb.). These devices raise and lower employees to a safe landing after a fall. If there is no descending device, workers should at least use trauma straps to reduce the risks of suspension trauma.

Due to the hazardous nature of the oil and gas industry, appropriate training on fall protection is paramount. Don’t hesitate to ask our experts on our training courses and specialized equipment.

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