Nine Oilfield Deaths Linked to Tank Gauging and Taking Oil Samples
Nine Oil Industry Deaths are Linked to Tank Gauging and Taking Oil Samples
Article by Stevie McHugh
In recent weeks, federal health officials have sounded a national alarm regarding a deadly trend in the oilfields of America. Oilfield workers and truck drivers who are either tank gauging or taking oil samples for more testing are dying as a result of inhaling toxic hydrocarbon chemicals.
Wrong! Not Death by Natural Causes
Nine oilfield fatalities in five years have been linked to this deadly hazard largely obscured due to errant autopsy findings. If coroners fail to run the appropriate toxicology tests for the chemicals a deceased oilfield worker has been exposed to, the common result is that the worker is deemed to have died of natural causes.
A medical examiner found, for example, that 51-year-old Joe Ray Sherman’s death last year on an oil patch in Weld County, Colorado, was caused by heart disease. He actually did suffer from a heart condition, making it no surprise that he suffered a fatal coronary attack. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has revealed that Sherman was part of a pattern in which victims exposed to high pressure gases and vapors on production tanks were found dead after having been working alone or unobserved by others.
The Specific Hazard
These highly dangerous exposures occur when production tank hatches are manually opened, releasing a high-pressure plume of hydrocarbon vapors and gases. The gases and vapors commonly contain such toxic ingredients as benzene, which is a carcinogen; ethane; butane; and propane.
Hydrocarbons in high concentrations are extremely dangerous and can cause explosions, asphyxiation, sudden death, and disorientation. Breathing the chemicals in certain amounts or concentrations often proves to be deadly.
Oilfield Workers at Risk
Oilfield work is highly dangerous. Statistics from 2005 through 2009 showed that the fatality rate for the oil and gas industry was seven times higher than general industry and 2.5 times higher than the construction industry. Training is desperately needed, for workers to have the knowledge required to avoid deadly mistakes. However, the experienced and inexperienced both have been victims of this deadly tank hatch hazard.
The following is basic information about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the nine workers linked to the hatch hazard:
- In 2010, an oilfield worker was discovered next to an oil storage tank, slumped over the catwalk.
- In 2012, a worker who had been gauging a crude oil tank was discovered dead on the tank battery.
- In 2013, a truck driver was found slumped over the top of railing on a tank battery; he had been transferring crude oil.
- The following six fatalities occurred in 2014:
- A truck driver who it appeared was measuring the volume of liquid from the top of a tank battery was found slumped over on the catwalk, next to a tank. He had been pumping and hauling crude oil.
- As an oilfield worker was pulling an oil sample from a tank, he lost consciousness and fell backwards over the catwalk guardrail.
- A worker for an oil transport company was found nonresponsive next to a crude oil tank.
- The driver of an oil tanker tractor-trailer died when collecting crude oil samples.
- An oilfield worker whose hourly duty was to gauge the amount of liquid in three oil tanks on site was found dead next to a tank battery.
- A flow tester gauging a crude oil tank was found face down and dead in the upper hatch of a crude oil storage tank.
While American Petroleum Institute spokesperson Zachary Cikanek points out, in relationship to this story, that in the decade ending 2013, the injury and illness rate among oilfield workers dropped by 40%, it is obvious that much more needs to be done to protect workers from oilfield hazards such as toxic gases.
What Can be Done?
Finding successful strategies for ensuring the training of oilfield workers is said to be particularly challenging, due to the often nomadic nature of the work.
What do you think, Oilfield Families? Is it impractical for workers to always wear respirators when performing these dangerous tasks? Can you help spread the word that checking oil tank hatches has far too often been proving to be deadly? Do you have ideas for solutions to this particular hazard?
Information Source – Denver Post
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