It is no secret that working on in the oilfield is a potentially high-risk job – and despite all of the improvements that have been made to keep rig hands and other oilfield workers safe, it is still listed as one of the world’s most dangerous professions. Workers deal with highly combustible materials on facilities where cranes constantly swing heavy loads and equipment overhead. They also face other health risks, including injuries to hands and fingers.
Historically, hand injuries account for about 50 percent of all recorded injuries in the oil and gas industry. Threats to the hands include burns, punctures, chemical burns, and vibration, as well as being caught between or struck by objects.
The men and women working in the oil and gas industry know that there are certain inherent hazards associated with their work, but as an employer, it is still your responsibility to keep your personnel safe while on the job. And this duty doesn’t end with equipping your employees with personal protective equipment (PPE), like impact resistant gloves for their hands.
Hand and finger protection is really designed as a last-line of defense when an HSE event occurs. To truly operate a workplace free of hand injuries you have to eliminate the cause of those injuries: Hands coming in contact with hazardous equipment. Developing, and implement a hands-free policy can drastically reduce the number of hand injuries across all of your facilities.
But how would hands-free operations even be possible in the oil and gas and other industrial environments — just about every job requires manual handling of various materials and dealing with heavy equipment, often suspended from above? In 2003, Noble Corp. successfully made the transition.
How Did Noble Corp. Create and Enforce a Hands-Free System?
In its drilling operations worldwide, Noble Corporation reduced the number of hand and finger injuries among its oil rig employees by around 65 percent over a three-year trial period (2001 to 2003).
Many of the past hand and finger injuries among Noble Corp. employees were associated with material handling that occurred during load transfers in which a crane moved cargo to the deck or onto another vessel. When the cargo started to swing, employees standing nearby would sometimes extend a hand to guide it.
Since the cargo was in motion and workers responded on impulse, their hands would sometimes get caught between the load and another object, causing injury. In these situations, the resulting hand and finger injuries ranged widely in severity. But once the company determined how these injuries happened, it devised an action plan – the hands-free policy.
Noble Corp’s hands-free policy includes the following guidelines:
- No employee is allowed to touch a load, sling, or wireline while cargo is suspended and there’s tension on the rigging.
- Crane operators are responsible for controlling the loads. Other workers can help in the process by only using dedicated tag-lines. Tag-lines should meet the company’s quality standards: they should be rigid enough to resist twisting and tangling, as well as other conditions that could result in injury.
- The crane operator must signal approval before any worker can touch a tagline to guide heavy cargo to its destination on the rig floor or another vessel. The approval can only happen if the crane is secured and the tagline is loose.
- Any employee using a tagline must position him or herself at least ten feet from the load.
- If the hands-free policy is not applicable, the offshore installation manager (OIM) should assess the situation and provide approval before the load is moved. Upon approval, the OIM must enforce a toolbox talk that includes a review of the company job safety analysis. The OIM should also record the approval and other details of the situation and share this record with other crews.
In addition to this policy, Noble Corp. installed night-vision, closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in the boom tips of rig cranes to give the operators a clearer view of the cargo transfer process.
This straightforward approach to hand safety has served the company and its employees well. The hands-free policy has not only helped reduce hand and finger injuries on Noble Corp. rigs. But it has also increased overall safety awareness among employees, which has helped lower the total number of injuries over a three-year trial period.
Since then, many other companies have adopted Noble Corp’s hands-free policy. How can you jump on this safety bandwagon, too?
Tips on Keeping Workers’ Hands Off Equipment or Cargo
Due to the limited space available, handling and positioning of heavy loads and equipment, at industrial facilities, can lead to trapped hands or crushed fingers. Here are a few tips to help your employees keep their hands off equipment and suspended loads:1. Assess Past Hand and Finger Injuries
Go over the past records of hand and finger injuries at your facilities. Like Noble Corp., you must determine how these injuries occurred, so you can develop a comprehensive, efficient hands-free policy. For guidance on how to investigate incidents, check out one of our recent blog posts A Guide to Investigating Injuries in the Workplace.2. Enforce the Use of Tag-lines, Push Poles, and Other Similar Tools
Implementing the use of tag-lines, push poles, and other tools can help workers keep their hands a safe distance and out of harm’s way. It is also recommended to install CCTVs on rigs and cranes to help crane operators and facility managers assess the environment before and during lifting operations.3. Ensure Daily Implementation of Hands-Free Policy
Any policy to ensure hand safety in oil rigs won’t be effective unless it’s strictly implemented. Educate all workers about your hands-free policy and train supervisors and managers on how to enforce it at work sites. Putting up hand safety signs across the platform can be a great help, too.4. Give Workers Extra Hand Protection
While implementing a hands-free policy is an efficient solution to address hand and finger injuries in the oil and gas industry, this does not eliminate the need to provide your workers with extra hand protection. Advanced, industry-specific PPE and gloves help keep workers’ hands from coming into direct contact with equipment or cargo that could lead to injury.
In the oil and gas industry, workers often operate in hazardous situations — but that doesn’t mean the job has to be unsafe. By assessing the dangers and creating a comprehensive plan to mitigate potential risks, you can help keep your employees safe while they complete their tasks each and every day.
Sometimes you need to challenge traditional operational systems, just as Noble Corp. did, to help your employees work without putting them at a greater risk of injury.