December 26, 2018 — A growing number of workers are being injured in the “upstream” aspects of the oil and gas industry, such as exploration and production.
Even so, the upstream industry is exempt from key OSHA rules, including safety management standards which require refineries, chemical plants, and other hazardous operations to adopt procedures to prevent fires, explosions, and chemical leaks.
Traumatic injuries are one of the most common hazards faced by upstream workers, but toxic gases can also be lethal. These gases include benzene, hydrogen sulfide in crude oil, hydrocarbon gases, or suffocating by breathing oxygen-depleted air.
Benzene is a highly-volatile carcinogenic component of crude oil, but the upstream industry is exempt from a 1987 OSHA rule designed to strictly limit exposure to benzene. The problem is that benzene is often released during “flowback” operations at oil well drilling sites.
There were 1,566 workers in the oil-and-gas drilling industry who died between 2008 and 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics — almost the same number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan during the same time-period.
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