Reports of Worker Fatalities During Flowback Operations

There is very little published data regarding occupational health hazards during oil and gas extraction operations. NIOSH request assistance from oil and gas stakeholders in further characterizing risks for chemical exposures during flowback operations and develop and implement exposure controls.

NIOSH has learned that several worker fatalities have been related to flowback operations through media reports. At least 4 workers have died since 2010 from acute chemical exposures during flowback operations. Information suggests that these cases involved workers who were gauging flowback or production tanks or involved in transferring flowback fluids at the well site. These fatalities often occurred when the workers were performing their duties alone.

Hydrogen sulfide is well recognized as a toxic exposure hazard associated with oil and gas extraction and production. However, less recognized by many employers and workers is that many of the chemicals found in volatile hydrocarbons are acutely toxic at high concentrations. This can affect the eyes, breathing, and the nervous system. At high concentrations, it may also affect the heart causing abnormal rhythms.

Tips to avoiding these exposures:

1.    Develop Alternative Tank Gauging Procedures
2.    Provide Hazard Awareness Training
3.    Monitor Workers
4.    Ensure Workers Do Not Work Alone
5.    Use Appropriate Respiratory Protection
6.    Establish Emergency Procedures


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