Fatal gas well explosion highlights need for continued workplace safety vigilance

A recent gas well explosion should remind safety managers about the need for effective training and protocols.

A recent gas well explosion should remind safety managers about the need for effective training and protocols.

A recent fatal gas well explosion in Oklahoma is an important reminder of the need for constant vigilance in terms of workplace safety, especially when it comes to potentially dangerous materials, equipment and operations. Although the vast majority of wells operate safely and without incident, the stakes are especially high for workers and businesses when something goes wrong. Let's look at the details of this accident and the issues that may have led to it.

Gas well explosion results in 5 fatalities

"The accident is a powerful reminder of the need for effective workplace safety planning."

The Houston Chronicle called the incident the deadliest accident related to the oil and gas industry since the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010. That catastrophic failure resulted in 11 deaths and 17 injuries at the offshore platform, affecting a significant percentage of the 100-plus crew members on site. The Oklahoma incident involved a massive explosion that led to five deaths as well as an assortment of injuries in Quinton, a small city in the southeast quarter of the state.

Issues related to extinguishing the fires ignited by the explosion meant emergency responders worked from Jan. 22, when the incident occurred, through the next day before they could fully control the situation. The status of the deceased workers wasn't confirmed until that point.

Local NBC affiliate KJRH reported on the findings of the Chemical Safety Board so far in its investigation of the incident, which began shortly after the explosion. The federal workplace safety watchdog is still looking into the exact circumstances that triggered the fatal accident, although it has determined that the crew working on the well rig had removed the drillpipe and other, related tools from the well as they began to change out the bit used on the drill. The companies involved in staffing and operating the well have cooperated fully with the CSB's work, and agents will continue to interview eye witnesses and examine the damaged worksite in an effort to determine exactly what occurred.

Improving vigilance at oil and gas well sites

The drilling segment of the oil and natural gas industry is more prone to accidents than many others. Jim Wicklund, a Credit Suisse analyst who works with the industry, reminded the Chronicle that several rigs are lost each year to accidents and explosions, although he also pointed out that fatalities are rare. How can businesses, from executive leaders to safety managers and on-site specialists, emphasize keeping workers safe in an especially dangerous circumstances?

A quick survey is a good place to start. Employees should be able to answer many of the questions in Energy HQ's "How well do you know oil and natural gas safety?" quiz, and safety specialists should have no trouble answering most, if not all, of them. Identifying gaps in knowledge among frontline workers and safety professionals can help steer efforts for education and training toward the specific areas where they're most needed.

Creating a greater sense of community and mutual importance around safety training can also have a positive impact. Oil and gas well workers have tough jobs with long hours, but they also need to effectively interact with parts of an expensive, complicated and potentially dangerous piece of equipment as they work. This common situation can be leveraged in group training that allows time for relationship building within crews, which can easily lead to a more active and attentive attitude about the safety of coworkers.

Investing in the right safety equipment is also a critical component of preventing accidents. Total Safety is here to help businesses involved in all phases of oil and natural gas production and transport operate as safely as possible.