Given the highly combustible nature of its products, the oil and gas pipeline industry is one of the most dangerous trades for workers in the United States. Whether in spite of this or because of it, the industry spends an enormous amount of time and energy focusing on creating safe work environments.
From tank farms to processing plants, keeping safety at top of mind can help ensure each worker goes home at the end of the day.
Those reminders are especially important for the oil and gas industry because it only takes one noncompliance issue, like a lit cigarette, to create a dangerous situation, which can turn deadly for both workers and civilians in the surrounding area. Noncompliance issues can cause explosions, monumental property destruction and natural disasters such as oil spills and wildfires.
In an effort to improve safety standards and create a culture of safety across the industry, many pipeline owners are working with third-party safety subject matter experts to help identify situations before they become hazardous. Throughout the industry, it is possible to set up safety best practices to avoid dangerous situations and keep workers safe, prevent damage to expensive equipment and avoid the destruction of property.
Importance of Training
Fortunately, as technology continues to advance, safety operators are seeing fewer equipment malfunctions across both manufacturing and the oil and gas industry. This does mean, however, that human error can be one of the most dangerous causes of accidents for pipelines. The best ways to prevent human error are to establish a robust training program that extends through the duration of a worker’s employment and to provide consistent reminders to modify potentially problematic behavior.
The most important aspect of creating a culture of safety is creating awareness for all employees, at all levels of the organization, about the safety requirements as it pertains to their jobs. It is vital to guarantee that all employees are constantly and immediately notified of any potentially dangerous situations. When it comes to safety, the phrase “out of sight, out of mind,” should not dictate how work areas are set up.
Additionally, employees should obtain all accreditations and certifications related to their job duties. For example, it is recommended that workers who are inspecting onshore pipelines for new construction projects have passed the American Petroleum Institute’s 1169 Inspector Certification.
All areas of the pipeline industry should be using safety signs, tags and identification to ensure that employees are constantly reminded of what is safe and not safe on the job. Pipeline construction and maintenance operators need to use “Call 811 Before you Dig” identification, as required by the Common Ground Alliance, for all buried pipeline markers as well as valve and inspection tags and emergency shutdown signs.
Contractors should apply all OSHA required identification on construction sites, including attaching signs to fencing in order to caution the public and guide work vehicles on and off the site. Workers in trenches need to be reminded of all possible hazards below ground, such as confined spaces and hydrogen sulfur, and reminded of the necessity of wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). Safety signage keeps workers informed that they are responsible for following OSHA standards and for the safety of themselves and their coworkers.
According to OSHA, three out of every five fatalities in the oil and gas extraction industry are the result of struck-by or caught-between hazards. Falling equipment, moving vehicles or equipment and high-pressure lines all present such hazards. It is crucial that employers notify their employees of these possible dangers with the appropriate identification and signs.
Other dangers for pipeline workers include exposure to uncontrolled electrical energy or other sources of hazardous energy. In fact, OSHA reports annually that the control of hazardous energy, also known as lockout tagout, is one of its most frequently violated standards. To keep hazardous energy contained, and avoid OSHA noncompliance, employees should first ensure that all machinery and equipment is installed and maintained properly. Next, workers should be utilizing lockout tagout locks, tags and materials for all types of machinery. It’s also advisable to invest in lockout hasps, which can fit locks from up to six workers per device and will not unlock the device until the last worker has removed their lock. These types of safety signs, tags and identification should be used not only for transmission pipelines but also in facilities like compressor stations, pumping stations, meter and regulator stations and valve sites.
While it can seem as though the possibilities for safety signage and identification in the oil and gas pipeline industry are endless, companies should keep in mind that they can never be too liberal with the placement of these reminders. Preventing OSHA non-compliance and creating a heightened awareness of higher-risk activities for workers can help businesses avoid disaster. There are times when less is more — setting up safe work sites is not one of those times.
LEM Products a Sign of Success
Founded in 1967 as a nationwide source for electrical identification products, LEM Products Inc. has grown to become a leading global provider of safety identification labels, tags and signs for a variety of industries. Certified by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council since 1998 and by the Pennsylvania Department of General Services, the Montgomeryville, Pennsylvania-based company manufacturers all of its products, both stock and custom, branded items, in the United States. The products are also made from durable materials to ensure they remain abrasion-free and can withstand exposure to chemicals, humidity, UV light and extreme weather conditions.
Known across the country and around the world, LEM Products conducts the majority of its oil and gas business in California — one of its biggest customers being the Pacific Gas and Electrical Company — and is certified by the California Public Utilities Commission. LEM Products has maintained an 80 percent retention rate over the past 20 years, and 40 percent of its clients have done business with the company for more than 15 years. LEM Products, Inc. is known for its fast response time, providing quotes within 24 hours and offering low minimum-order requirements, free shipping on all orders and quick turnaround on order fulfillment.
Since LEM Products is a woman-owned enterprise, purchases can help support the first-tier diversity spend initiatives that provide tax benefits to companies and that many companies are required to incorporate into their budgets. Those purchases can also count toward second-tier diversity spend initiatives because LEM Products itself is a patron of woman and minority-owned supply companies.
Maureen O’Connor is CEO of LEM Products Inc., a global manufacturer of industrial safety identification labels, tags and signs.