Hand injury risks in the oil and gas industry
26 January 2010
Fire risks and gas explosions might be some of the dangers which come to mind when considering occupational hazards in the offshore oil and gas industry. However, there are other risks which workers face on a regular basis, which are also essential to protect against.
Hand injury risks in the oil and gas industry
The latest ‘Injury and Incidents Statistics’ by the HSEs Offshore Division (OSD), reported ‘handling, lifting and carrying incidents’ continued to represent a large proportion of the total offshore oil & gas accidents recorded.
The use of safety gloves can help to safeguard against some of these preventable hand/arm injuries and support what is an overall downward trend in offshore oil & gas accidents.
Many jobs in the industry are ‘hands-on’. In 2008 the majority of major injuries (over-3-day incidents) were inflicted to the upper limbs (41%). Severe injuries to parts of the hand and wrist included incidents, such as lacerations and severed fingers. Hands can be vulnerable with workers using them as tools, however the range of quality of safety gloves now available on the market can help ensure hands are kept protected against the wide range of hazards that offshore workers are exposed to including hazardous substances, temperature extremes, cut and other mechanical hazards.
When setting up a safety glove programme, there are a number of key points to take into consideration:
The offshore oil and gas industry includes some challenging and hostile working environments with workers exposed to a high level of risk. The Offshore Installations (Safety Case) Regulations 2005 inform that all duty holders whether they be asset managers, safety managers or safety engineers are required to identify all hazards which have the potential to cause major accidents and ensure adequate preventative measures to control such risks.
When approaching safety glove selection for the first time, a safety glove survey is a good place to start. A glove survey is essentially an assessment of a working environment’s entire hand safety needs, to establish which type of glove is required. If a hazard cannot be removed and contact cannot be avoided, a glove survey can help select suitable protective products in line with current legislation.
One major pitfall to avoid is to over simplify glove requirements. Accidents can happen when businesses seek a one-stop solution when rarely such an approach is suitable. For example, a non-slip general handling glove that repels oil and provides some abrasion resistance might be suitable for a ‘roughneck’ role on an oilrig, but might not offer adequate protection and functionality for a more specialist role, such as that of a ‘mud engineer’. It is therefore important that hand protection is assessed on a task by task basis. Safety glove surveys are provided by a number of safety bodies as well as some safety glove manufacturers, including Polyco.
When it comes to procurement, it is also important to avoid the temptation to purchase often cheap and unregulated imports available on the market. The effects of the global recession have caused businesses to become more vigilant when it comes to expenditure, but cutting corners in health and safety is unacceptable. When tested, many unregulated safety glove products fail the safety standards they are required to meet, and not only does this put workers at risk, it can have steep legal ramifications for the business when they have been found to break the law.
There is a wide variety of safety gloves and arm guards available which combine both high levels of mechanical protection and allow for excellent dexterity. However, one of the main barriers to successful implementation of safety gloves in the industry is workers abandoning gloves, because they inhibit movement and productivity. This problem usually occurs when gloves haven’t been trialled or fitted properly, but there are simple steps to avoid this situation.
Following a safety glove survey, glove specialists often provide a report of the risks found along with a list of appropriate solutions. There is also the option to trial the products. A trial can be a good way to establish employee support. Not only do trials give the opportunity to involve workers directly in an initiative that will directly affect them, it can also help overcome any pre-formed objections they might have to the usability of the gloves. If a company chooses to trial the suggested products, a subsequent survey can be carried out to establish workers’ feedback which can then feed into the final purchasing decision. Gloves also come in different sizes, to ensure good fit and dexterity, workers should be issued with the appropriate sizes. It is also important to ensure that the PPE is suitable for year round use. Oil and gas workers are exposed to extremes of temperature and their hand protection needs to reflect this to ensure comfort.
Training and Communication
Effective communication of the benefits of safety gloves is important in influencing workers to use gloves. There are a number of tools available designed to reinforce a safety-first ethos along with proper use, care and maintenance of the gloves so that employers and wearers gain the most from their protective equipment.
A tool box talk is a good example. These are on site educational seminars given by safety glove specialists, which are designed to equip workers with the knowledge they need to safely protect their hands at work. They outline what products are suitable for relevant applications and include product demonstrations to instil confidence that the products will deliver the protection required. A number of safety glove providers also offer bespoke safety campaigns, which can include materials such as safety guide posters and other literature to promote and reinforce the use and importance of safety gloves.
Many offshore environments have an embedded safety culture with employees taking responsibility for their PPE, but managers need to ensure that this is continually monitored and refreshed as ultimate responsibility rests with the company.
Ensuring an adequate safety glove programme in the hazardous oil and gas industry is necessary to protect workers against hand safety risks, which can lead to absenteeism or more permanent incapacitation. It also makes good business sense, improving the moral and productivity of staff, helping to boost staff retention, as well as avoiding the cost of legal fines and compensation fees which can occur when safety is neglected.
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