Safety in the oil and gas transportation industry has always been a concern. However, it hasn’t always been made a priority — and the industry has dealt with the consequences, including a high death rate. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Division of Safety Research, there were 7.6 deaths per 100,000 workers in the oil and gas extraction industry due to motor vehicle accidents — the highest rate among any industry group except for the transportation and warehousing sector.
Contributing factors to oil and gas fleet accidents, among others, include: Lack of field awareness including navigation in remote areas, complacency in observing safety practices, operator fatigue, excessive speed, weather conditions (particularly seasonal weather considerations in Canada and the northern United States) and equipment maintenance.
Government safety legislation is typically broad so as to address the industry’s unique operational considerations. Industry colleagues have built up comprehensive safety practices through working groups and industry associations under entities like the Pipeline Contractor Association of Canada (PLCAC), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP) and Enform.
Invariably, in today’s pipeline infrastructure marketplace, safety is a critical part of doing business and the practice is an absolute requirement for all those involved in pipelining. We’ll take a look at the three most common areas in which safety challenges arise for transporters and discuss considerations and technology solutions to help companies — and employees — stay safe.
As with the transportation of any good or service, of utmost importance is the safety of the operator, passengers, nearby workers and others on the road. Pipeline construction often involves a large number of short moves of equipment and people as the job progresses down the route and from staging area to staging area. While each move in itself is not typically high risk, the sheer quantity of moves dramatically increases the exposure of the overall job to possible incident.
For example, crossing through an intersection along a rural road hundreds of times — each time with a heavy load, many times a day — increases the chances that one of these crossings could result in a collision. With that being said, one of the main considerations for maintaining safety in these situations is to spend time and energy studying driver behaviors and looking closely at factors such as speed, responsible driving, driving for the right conditions and situational awareness appropriate to the circumstances.
Typically, oil and gas pipeline sites are located in rural, sparsely populated areas so operators need to be prepared to handle situations on their own, with backup from onsite medical personnel if needed. Most incidents happen on the road and in-transit, not at the construction site, so it is important that companies provide the proper training and equipment to ensure safety behind the wheel. One way to do that is through in-cab coaching using real-time alerts.
Through Driver ID technology and onboard event recording provided by Trimble Oil & Gas Services, information on driver behavior — such as excessive speed, harsh braking and rough road driving in non-public road environments — can be analyzed and compiled into actionable scorecards. Safety managers can then identify concerning trends and coach managers and staff on how to minimize the risk in their day-to-day operations.
Another common issue related to personal safety is fatigue. Pipeline construction employees tend to work in intense bursts of activity and employees may work long hours. Fortunately, systems, such as Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs), remove the burden of manual and paper-based controls so managers can better plan for employee activity and employees become aware of working hours, compliance and risk.
Additionally, Journey Management is a practice that many companies use as the common thread through all the day’s planned activities, risks and safety practices. This planning tool creates an opportunity to think ahead to the activities that will be engaged in during the day, the path of travel, time spent at the site and the potential risks. It also gives the opportunity to prepare the appropriate response actions if something goes off the rails.
Awareness of Environment
Navigating to remote locations along cut lines, privately leased roads and forestry roads efficiently and safely is a common challenge in this industry. Trimble has focused on this challenge for more than 10 years and now has the most comprehensive oilfield road transport mapping solution available. With 260,000 miles of lease roads in the United States and another 76,000 miles in Canada, drivers have access to the most reliable — and safe — road data no matter where they are. In-Cab Navigation can also give turn-by-turn, voice-guided directions, updates on road closures and alternate routes. In the event of emergency, this tool also provides visuals on a driver’s exact location and how to get them out, or stage an emergency response effectively in an area first responders do not frequent.
Additionally, Trimble provides Geofencing with automated reporting and alerting for fleet assets near sensitive areas as well as ancillary map information to locate oilfield infrastructure such as pipelines, survey grid locations and wells.
Weather is an additional environmental consideration. For example, rain causes problems, especially in areas of the southern United States that are prone to flooding. Heavy trucks can easily get stuck and culverts are frequently washed away. Changing weather conditions must be watched closely and driving routes should be planned carefully. Trimble’s oilfield routing with ALK Technologies, Journey Management and risk datasets are particularly helpful in planning for field operations.
Winter weather is also a risk, particularly in Canada, where certain jobs can only be done in winter months when overland access is made possible by frozen ground and waterways. This creates an environment for those dramatic incident pictures you see of equipment sinking away or slipping off a road. In reality, the more common incidents are the more mundane, such as personnel slip and fall incidents that happen when the ground is icy or slick with mud. These incidents pose injury risks that can have a lasting and costly impact for companies and their workers.
Wildlife is another probable encounter that drivers must be aware of. Hitting an animal — or swerving to avoid one — puts drivers and others in danger and damages equipment. To promote operator awareness of wildlife collision risk, a hotspot map was created that identifies places where past collisions have occurred to raise operators’ awareness of the real potential for wildlife collision in their region. When crashes and near-misses relating to weather or wildlife do happen, drivers wishing to communicate these issues or call for backup could face a lack of cell phone coverage. As a solution, Trimble offers fleets a primary cellular and backup satellite to aid in communication with the office or personnel no matter where they are located.
In addition to having an awareness of environment conditions, drivers should also have a keen awareness of vehicle condition, particularly since they rely on equipment to get to and from civilization. The last thing an operator wants is for their truck or pipelayer to fail on them in the midst of a job due to inadequate maintenance.
It’s important to have common sense best practices in place, such as doing a walk around before getting into any vehicle, making sure assets are properly loaded, equipment is stable and the vehicle is generally in good condition. This pre-trip inspection should be in addition to routine full inspections and maintenance. Trimble’s TMT Fleet Maintenance software helps with this by analyzing, evaluating and managing fleet and equipment assets for more effective and efficient performance. The Asset Maintenance system also helps automate product maintenance and service scheduling to minimize service downtime.
Creating a Culture of Safety
Having a plan in place and being equipped with the right technology for a range of predictable situations — from encountering washed out roads to deer crossings to getting lost in a lease road network — is important for all of us that work in the pipeline industry and the oil and gas industry at large. It is crucial to properly invest in the technology, tools and training that operators need to remain safe and ensuring a culture where these things matter. This investment can help lower costs through a reduction in waste, risk, injury and damage, and increase capacity, which ultimately drives profitability.
Adrian Harding is the director of product management for Trimble Oil & Gas Services. In his role, Harding works to develop solutions that enable producers, operators and service providers to gain visibility into their mixed fleet operations. He is also involved in industry organizations and is a member of the Association of Petroleum Surveying and Geomatics – Canadian Chapter (APSG).