In recent years, many industry professionals have condemned the oil refinery business and claimed under-regulation as a primary source of accidents and danger for workers on a daily basis. The EPA and Department of Labor currently work in a reactive manner, mostly responding to incidents rather than taking preventive measures.
Many of the accidents arising from oil refineries are preventable with the proper training and compliance measures. One of the major components of safety is communication, specifically internal communication between workers on the ground, internal safety regulators, and management. Although companies like ecompliance.com and IndustrySafe.com provide vital safety software for businesses involved in dangerous industries, management must still consider accident prone areas on the job site.
Below are a few of the most accident prone areas in oil refineries.
Most Dangerous Parts of Oil Refineries
Corroded Pipes – The dangers that refineries pose are immense, both on the workers of the rig and the external environment. Corroded pipes occur from a lack of proper maintenance and extensive oxidation from saltwater. Rusting pipes lead to cracking and leaking of oil on platforms, eventually escalating if not treated properly. Pipe cracking was considered a leading cause of the Chevron fire and has contributed to a wide variety of disasters in refinery-based communities. In addition, piping is considered one of the most important components of oil refinery operations, but also is one of the most failure-prone elements. Oil companies often attempt to prolong piping life by cutting corners on safety to save costs. Instead of shutting down the rig for new pipe installation, many oil companies clamp over cracks or holes in pipes in order to extend life and save on shutdown costs. Unfortunately, this increases the risk of explosion and worker safety.
Shell and Tube Heat Exchanger – This heat exchanger is a specific class of system commonly found in oil refineries and other large chemical processes. It is known for higher-pressure applications and helps create energy for turbines. Given the high-pressure nature of the system, the dangers associated with non-compliance safety actions is insurmountable. Without proper maintenance and identification, cracks can form along weld seams of connecting tubes. If the tubes explode, the heat exchanger will release like a firecracker on workers present in the area. More transparency and equipment maintenance is vital for accident prone areas like heat exchangers.
Hulking Tanks and Other Vessels – Holding tanks harbor superheated liquids that are some of the most flammable vapors and toxic gases on the planet. One wrong move and workers can be engulfed in flames within seconds without hopes of extinguishment. Workers are handling extremely volatile compounds under high pressures and temperatures with consistently rotating equipment. This makes areas like hulking tanks and vessels extremely dangerous if leaks or cracks occur.
Heavy Equipment Failure – Increasing burdens on aging equipment meets rising energy demands, which ultimately creates an unsafe environment for operations. Over the past decade, equipment failure, including drills and heavy machinery, was blamed for approximately half of the 7,600 accidental chemical releases from refineries. This is largely due to the lack of maintenance scheduling and short-cutting of current safety procedures.
Drum Head Removal – Back in 2003, OSHA and the EPA warned oil companies about the hazardous practices used in cooker units, which is an oil refinery processing unit that converts residual oil from columns into lower molecular weight gases. Workers use the method of high temperatures for prolonged periods to upgrade low-quality crude oil. Unfortunately, many workers succumbed to third-degree burns when removing drum heads during the process. Drumhead removal is always extremely dangerous due to the high temperatures and hazardous byproducts associated with oil conversions and chemical processes.
OSHA has claimed in recent years that the best method for avoiding worker accidents is transparency and communication. Proper maintenance requires checks and balances from individuals on the ground, as well as management putting safety above profit. Although oil refinery accidents are less prominent than other highly dangerous industries, the threat is real and must be regulated carefully.
Matthew Hal is a former oil worker who now shares some of the hazards he has come across through his writing in the hopes of helping others to have rewarding and productive careers. He hopes that his works are helpful to both entry-level workers and managers alike.