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Category Archives: Environment Health and Safety (EHS) Services

Keeping Workers Safe in High Heat

Although no specific Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards cover heat stress, the General Duty Clause protects employees against heat-related illnesses due to the hazard’s serious nature.

While most will readily acknowledge it’s important to keep body temperature stable to prevent heat illness or even death, but many don’t recognize the basic factors involved so they can quickly and readily recognize when heat illness is occurring or, better yet, to prevent it in the first place.

Heat Stress Factors

Two primary sources contribute to overheating: (1) environmental conditions and (2) internal heat generated by physical labor. While each factor may not be present every time, a combination of the two could increase risk.

Since the body cools itself through sweating, air temperature is imperative to maintaining a consistent internal temperature. Sweating does not cool the body unless the skin’s moisture can evaporate. However, if the air temperature is warmer than the skin, the body cannot lose heat, and its ability to maintain an acceptable body temperature may be significantly impaired.

Associated Safety and Health Hazards

Safety hazards tend to occur more frequently in high heat/high humidity environments due to many contributing factors, including sweaty palms, dizziness and fogging of safety glasses. In more extreme cases, mental confusion, tiredness and irritability could cause impaired judgment resulting in safety hazards.

Please be aware of certain health hazards that occur more frequently in high heat/high humidity environments, like heat cramps, fainting, heat rash, heat exhaustion and, most dangerous of all, heat stroke.

Heat illness victims should be treated by providing cool water to drink and moving the person to a cool or shaded area—none of which are easy when working in remote locations. Easy and quick options to combat heat illness is to bring onsite cooling trailers equipped with air conditioning or misting fans and have water stations set up around the facility or worksite.

Creating a Work/Rest Schedule

W When possible, more-frequent, shorter periods of heat exposure are better than fewer, longer exposures. Rest periods do not necessarily mean that workers are on break; these can be productive times. During the rest periods, workers may continue to perform mild or light work such as completing paperwork, sorting small parts, attending a meeting, or receiving training.

Work/rest schedules are often based on 1-hour cycles and might call for a rest period of 15 minutes every hour during hot weather, but 45 minutes per hour when temperature and humidity are extreme. Keep in mind that workers wearing flame-resistant cotton or chemical-resistant suits will experience increased body temperature of approximately 10-degrees more than wearing normal work clothing.

The following table acts as a guideline for creating work/rest schedules for workers, assuming the worker is wearing a chemical-resistant suit, gloves, boots and a respirator:

OSHA's Work/Rest Schedule for High Heat Environments

Tips for Prevention

Preventative tips from OSHA (and their website) and many other organizations are available to workers and employers to protect against heat-related illnesses, including awareness of heat illness symptoms and response, adequately utilizing shaded areas for resting, and drinking plenty of cool water.

To learn more about Total Safety and its unwavering commitment to ensure the safe wellbeing of workers worldwide, contact them at 888.44.TOTAL or at mail@totalsafety.com.

Silica Dust Exposure During Fracking

By John Baker, Total Safety Certified Industrial Hygienist

The public debate about hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” has weighed the potential for environmental pollution versus the economic and energy independence benefits which fracking has unlocked. But recently, worker exposure to silica dust during fracking has been highlighted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

One commonly used method of fracking requires large volumes of sand and water to be pumped into wells at high pressures to break up tight formations, like shale, which have trapped oil and gas. Many truckloads of sand are off loaded and transferred by conveyor belts before being mixed with water and other chemicals and pumped downhole. The dust produced, which may contain up to 99% crystalline silica, is a health concern due to the risk of silicosis, a progressive and disabling lung disease.

Several oil and gas companies partnered with NIOSH in the collection of 116 personal air samples at 11 fracking sites in five states. Almost half of the air samples exceeded the enforceable OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL), which is defined on a sliding scale depending on the amount of silica in the respirable fraction of dust collected. NIOSH has established a recommended silica exposure limit (REL) of 0.05 mg/m3. Almost 80% of the samples exceeded this REL.

Until a safe and economically viable substitute can be found or engineering controls such as exhaust ventilation are installed, personal protective equipment including respirators must be used. A NIOSH approved, properly fitted and worn half mask or filtering facepiece dust respirator provides protection only up to 10 times the relevant occupational exposure limit. Almost 10% of the samples were at least 10 times the OSHA PEL and 30% of the samples were at least 10 times the NIOSH REL. Dust respirators alone may not adequately protect workers from the risk of silicosis during fracking.  An OSHA NIOSH hazard alert may be downloaded at http://www.osha.gov/dts/hazardalerts/hydraulic_frac_hazard_alert.pdf  . This excellent document provides detailed information about the study and links to additional information.

Industry and government are continuing to cooperate on finding workable controls. Rick Ingram, S.G.E, BP North America Gas, and the Chairperson of the National STEPS network states that:

NIOSH, OSHA and the US Onshore E&P Industry have been working in a cooperative effort to ensure that we fully understand this issue and protect our workers. As part of this effort, a focus group has been formed to further explore respirable silica, share best practices and develop a unified plan forward. Our industry has much to be proud of. We have the privilege of helping to supply low cost domestic energy to our nation while providing high quality, good paying jobs. Through the efforts of industry associations, organizations and agencies such as API, AESC, IADC, IPAA, SafeLandUSA, National STEPS Network, NIOSH, OSHA, educational institutions and countless dedicated individuals and professionals, we are we are working diligently to make our industry segment the safest of all industries. The fact that this hazard was identified and is being mitigated though voluntary, cooperative efforts demonstrates how far we have progressed and the very positive future of health and safety in US Onshore Exploration and Production segment.  To learn more, visit www.nationalstepsnetwork.com.

To learn more about potential respiratory hazards during fracking, call us at 888.44.TOTAL.

Industrial Hygiene Elements of a Successful Turnaround

By John Baker, Total Safety Industrial Hygienist

Previously, Total Safety has emphasized the importance of including the need for IH resources during the planning of the turnaround to ensure that the exposure of employees (and possibly contractors) to airborne chemicals, silica, asbestos, noise, heat, radiation and other health hazards is monitored and controlled.

Pre-planning is essential for a successful turnaround because the specialized equipment and materials needed to test or detect certain materials and physical hazards may not be available on a moment’s notice.  This is especially true for a chemical plant turnaround that may require testing for aldehydes, amines, cyanides or other chemicals not typically tested for in refinery turnarounds. Filter or sorbent media that are pre-treated with specific reagents are necessary to monitor for aldehydes, ketones  and amines. Pesticide manufacturing plants typically require specialized testing and lab procedures to properly measure the materials of interest. Some materials, such as certain isocyanates, require the samples to be refrigerated and analyzed in the laboratory as soon as possible for accurate results. Polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbon air samples should be wrapped in foil and shipped refrigerated by overnight delivery to prevent degradation by sunlight and elevated temperatures. Testing for hexavalent chromium fumes while welding, cutting or arc gouging on stainless steel or high temperature alloys requires different filters and lab testing than for welding fumes on common steel. Chemicals that have high ionization energies, such as methanol or sulfur dioxide, may not be detected by a typical hand held or area photoionization detector, so a modified or different type of instrument would need to be used in that case.

Another point to be clarified well before the turnaround begins is the scope of work regarding confined space entry permits and hot work permits. Just because an IH technician is walking through a unit on the way to an assignment does not mean that he or she is under contract or allowed to “sniff” a space and “sign off” on a confined space or hot work permit. Generally, a supervisory employee of the owner or operator of the refinery or chemical plant is the person with the knowledge of the process and the equipment, and therefore, the associated hazards, who should be responsible for the final sign off on such permits. If this is not clarified at the planning stage, it could cause undue delays and confusion during the turnaround itself. The ventilation of confined spaces is another aspect of turnarounds that benefits from detailed prior planning. The location of the intake of the air supply must be in a clean, uncontaminated area, and the exhaust should likewise be directed away from workers, trailers or areas used for plant traffic. Be careful where “vac” trucks are discharging their exhaust as well.

Thought should also be given to which pre-turnaround activities need as much or more IH scrutiny than the maintenance, repair or replacement work itself. Some of the greatest potential for exposure occurs while units are being brought down and drained and purged. The potential for oxygen deficient atmospheres when nitrogen purging, or reactions of residues when using high temperature steam, should be considered and appropriate monitoring and PPE provided.

Thinking ahead and communicating in detail with the turnaround’s project engineering team about what, when, who and how of each work task will ensure that the IH resources committed to the turnaround are available when and where they are needed.

For additional information about pre-planning for your turnaround, contact us at 888.44.TOTAL.

Handling Petroleum Coke in a Safe and Healthful Manner

By John Baker, Total Safety Certified Industrial Hygienist

For Environmental Health and Safety Services, Go Total SafetyPetroleum coking is an environmentally responsible recycling process used in some oil refineries to make the most use of hydrocarbon residuals that otherwise would go to waste. As safety and health professionals, we are sure to control the high temperature and pressure used in the coke domes to “bake” the volatiles out of the coke and the drill and high pressure water sprays used to cut the coke out of the coke domes.  However, critical safety and health hazards are present in the material handling processes used to move petroleum coke to storage and ultimately, to the customer. Enclosed conveyors are often used to move the coke into a storage building and then onto docks for loading onto barges, ships or to land based transportation loading facilities. The rollers moving the conveyor belt, the motors powering the rollers, vibrating screens and the limited space for personnel movement and access within the conveyor structure all present potential physical and electrical hazards which must be addressed in the Job Safety Analysis for production and maintenance tasks. Personnel must perform constant maintenance of the conveyors, often spending a considerable portion of a work shift crawling under conveyors to vacuum or sweep and shovel spillage. Even if the vacuum system is in top condition, the awkward space constraints of the conveyor gallery present ergonomic challenges that must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

A potentially catastrophic hazard which must be controlled in coke handling operations is the possibility of a combustible dust explosion or deflagration. Petroleum coke is readily able to form dust clouds of finely divided, combustible material. OSHA’s National Emphasis Program for Combustible Dust (CPL-03-00-008) emphasizes the need for administrative and engineering controls including immediate housekeeping, prevention of ignition sources, ventilation with spark detection and explosion/deflagration suppression systems, explosion venting and other  pressure relief devices, when a combustible dust layer exceeds 1/32 of an inch (about the thickness of a typical paper clip) on more than 5% of the floor area of a facility or any given room.

Total Safety studied the dust exposure potential of a petroleum coke handling operation at a large refinery that shipped its coke on ocean going vessels. Particle size analysis of the bulk coke product indicated that throughout the material handling process, more than 65% was smaller than the 40 mesh or 425 micrometer size that OSHA, NFPA and other authorities use as a first step in assessing the potential to form a combustible dust cloud. The bulk coke had less than 5 percent in the “respirable” particle size range of 4 micrometers; however the dust which wafted off the bulk material at transfer points as measured by an optical particle counter indicated that the majority of the airborne dust was in the “respirable” range. Personal samples of airborne dust were collected on filters connected to air sampling pumps worn by each worker. The filter cassettes were wrapped in aluminum foil before sampling and kept refrigerated afterward to prevent degradation of the collected chemicals. The collected dust was weighed and then chemically analyzed for “coal tar pitch volatiles (CTPV).”  Two of the samples exceeded 0.2 milligrams of CTPV per cubic meter of air and were further analyzed for specific compounds within the “polyaromatic hydrocarbon (PAH)” chemical category. Neither sample showed any detectable amounts of PAH compounds.  NIOSH approved half mask respirators with P100 filters provided adequate protection if properly worn according to manufacturer’s recommendations.

In summary, petroleum coke is an economically important recycled material which can be managed in a safe and healthful manner when the associated hazards are anticipated, recognized, evaluated and controlled in a systematic program.

For additional information regarding the health and safety of your workplace, call us at 888.44.TOTAL.

Total Safety Leads Hydrogen Sulfide Safety Discussion with China’s Sinopec Group

Total Safety recently hosted executives from Sinopec Group, one of the largest Chinese state-owned petroleum and petrochemical enterprise group, at its La Porte, Texas, facility to lead a discussion on hydrogen sulfide (H2S) safety.Total Safety recently hosted executives from Sinopec Group, one of the largest Chinese state-owned petroleum and petrochemical enterprise group, at its La Porte, Texas, facility to lead a discussion on hydrogen sulfide (H2S) safety. The meeting was part of an initiative of the Houston Mayor’s Office of International Trade & Development.

Sinopec executives were visiting Houston to meet with upstream energy leaders and, as part of that trip, requested to meet with a health, safety and environmental (HSE) services company with expertise in (i) risk identification, risk assessment and risk control, (ii) emergency preplanning and contingency planning, and (iii) the development of gas fields with high hydrogen sulfide content.

“With our worldwide capabilities and expertise concerning hydrogen sulfide (H2S), Total Safety welcomed the opportunity to share our experience and expertise around risk identification, assessment and control,” said Jude Taylor, regional general manager for Total Safety. “The safety of workers worldwide is paramount and the discussion focused on how to build on its efforts of continued improvement in this area of operations.”

During the facility tour, Sinopec executives witnessed first-hand Total Safety’s safety culture and how it educates its customers on the importance of safety in the workplace. They also learned about Total Safety and its entire suite of industrial safety services and equipment.

Reduce Safety Risks and Remain Compliant with an I2P2

By Mandy Sunderland, Sr. Industrial Hygienist, Total Safety

For years, OSHA has been developing a rule to require employers to establish and maintain an Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2). While the actual rule is still in the works,  OSHA released a white paper in January 2012 concerning I2P2 and a potential new rule that would require employers to proactively find and fix hazards in their workplace.

What is an I2P2?

Typically created by experienced safety and health professionals, an I2P2 defines minimum acceptable work practices at a given work site and lays out a structure of responsibility and authority to systematically address workplace safety and health hazards on an ongoing basis to reduce the extent and severity of work-related injuries and illnesses. Basically, an I2P2 takes a proactive approach to controlling incidents as it focuses on finding hazards in the workplace before an accident occurs and developing a plan for preventing and controlling them.

The key elements common to successful I2P2s are:

  • Management leadership
  • Worker participation
  • Hazard identification and assessment
  • Hazard prevention and control
  • Education and training
  • Program evaluation and improvement

In addition, it’s critical to periodically evaluate your I2P2 to determine whether improvements need to be made.

For readers who participate in OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP), you are already familiar with these core elements of your organization’s safety and health program. Readers whose organizations have incorporated either one of the two voluntary consensus standards, ANSI/AIHA Z10-2005 or OHSAS 18001-2007 on Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems should be well-prepared for I2P2.

OSHA’s 1998 Draft of a Proposed Rule on Safety and Health Management Programs allowed the “grandfathering” of employers who have implemented a program that included the core elements mentioned above, or demonstrated the effectiveness of any provision that differs. Although there is no guarantee that any future proposed rule would include a grandfather clause, the benefits to be gained in finding and fixing safety and health hazards in an organized and documented manner are worth the time and effort.

Why do we need an I2P2?

Every day, more than 12 workers die on the job, which equates to over 4,500 a year. In addition, more than 4.1 million workers suffer a serious job-related injury or illness each year. The actual cost of a fatality or lost workday injury is substantial, not to mention to the anguish these incidents impose on the workforce. For every dollar spent on direct costs, up to ten times more is spent on indirect and hidden costs. These indirect costs include:

  • Lost productivity by the injured employee and their co-workers
  • Time spent on investigations completing paperwork
  • Clean up and re-start of operations interrupted by the accident
  • Time to hire or train replacement workers
  • Time and cost for repair or replacement of damaged equipment or materials

However, we are not powerless when it comes to preventing serious injuries. We can and should have a handy tool in our EHS arsenal to help prevent these incidents from occurring in the first place – a solid, effective I2P2. As stated by OSHA in their January 2012 white paper:

‘Thirty-four states and many nations around the world already require or encourage employers to implement [I2P2s]. …These countries include Canada, Australia, all 27 European Union member states, Norway, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea. This initiative also follows the lead of 15 U.S. states that have already implemented regulations requiring such programs.”

Whether you need to develop a comprehensive program tailored to your facility for the first time or simply need to update your existing I2P2, you will help reduce the risk of work-related incidents and remain in compliance with current and future legal requirements.