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Health Hazards Associated with Oil and Gas Extraction Activities

Oil and gas well drilling and servicing activities involve the use and production of potentially hazardous materials. OSHA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and industry and safety groups continue to evaluate the type and extent of chemical and other health hazards across the industry.

Potential health hazards are highlighted below. See Standards and Enforcement for more information on evaluation and control requirements.

Highlight: NIOSH Field Effort to Assess Chemical Exposures

NIOSH has initiated a field effort to assess chemical exposures in the oil and gas industry. Workers, managers, supervisors, and health and safety professionals involved in oil and gas drilling and servicing operations are encouraged to participate in the field effort. For more information see: NIOSH Field Effort to Assess Chemical Exposure Risks to Gas and Oil Workers (PDF).

Highlight: Hydraulic Fracturing
Highlight: Hydraulic Fracturing

During the 2000s, there has been an increase in hydraulic fracturing operations in the oil and gas extraction industry. NIOSH has initiated a field effort to assess chemical exposures in this industry. NIOSH identified exposure to airborne silica as a health hazard to workers conducting some hydraulic fracturing operations.

For more information, see:

Hydrogen Sulfide

Oil and gas wells can release hydrogen sulfide and expose workers to hydrogen-sulfide gas. The three best practices to help prevent injury and death are: active monitoring for hydrogen-sulfide gas; good planning; and training programs for workers. The following OSHA and NIOSH documents provide guidance on recognizing and controlling this hazard:

  • Hydrogen Sulfide Gas. OSHA's Oil and Gas Well Drilling and Servicing eTool. Describes hydrogen-sulfide hazards in the oil and gas industry and possible solutions.
  • Hydrogen Sulfide. OSHA QuickCard. Addresses hydrogen-sulfide hazards in brief.
  • Respiratory protection as it relates to oil fields. OSHA Standard Interpretation (1993, April 14). Addresses respiratory protection in the oil and gas industry.
  • Respiratory Protection. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page. Addresses respiratory protection and associated standards.
  • Hydrogen Sulfide. NIOSH Safety and Health Topics Page. Lists NIOSH publications and current research into occupational hydrogen sulfide exposure.

Relevant industry practice documents applicable to this hazard include:

  • API 49 Recommended Practice for Drilling and Well Service Operations Involving Hydrogen Sulfide
  • API 55 Recommended Practices for Oil and Gas Producing and Gas Processing Plant Operations Involving Hydrogen Sulfide
  • API 68 Well Servicing and Workover Operations Involving Hydrogen Sulfide
  • IADC H2S Safety Handbook
  • IADC H2S Safety for Oil, Gas & Petrochemical Industry
  • IADC H2S Safety in Drilling and Production
  • IADC Oilfield H2S Safety Training
Silica

Workers might be exposed to respirable crystalline silica during processes that use sand, such as hydraulic fracturing. The following OSHA and NIOSH documents provide guidance on recognizing and controlling this hazard:

Silica

Relevant industry practice documents applicable to this hazard include:

Noise

Oil and gas workers can be exposed to harmful noise levels during equipment operation. The following OSHA and NIOSH documents provide guidance on recognizing and controlling this hazard:

Relevant OSHA and national consensus standards applicable to this hazard include:

  • Occupational noise exposure 1910.95. Note: 1910.95(o) states: "Paragraphs (c) through (n) of this section shall not apply to employers engaged in oil and gas well drilling and servicing operations."
Diesel Particulate Matter

Diesel engines power a variety of machinery, vehicles, and equipment on a drilling site. Workers might be exposed to harmful levels of diesel particulate matter during the operation of these engines. The following OSHA and NIOSH documents provide guidance on recognizing and controlling this hazard:

  • Diesel Exhaust. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page. Addresses diesel-exhaust hazards and associated standards.
  • Diesel Exhaust Sampling. OSHA Chemical Sampling Information. Addresses exposure limits, effects, and monitoring methods.
  • Diesel Exhaust Pocket Guide. NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards. Addresses exposure symptoms and measurement criteria for diesel exhaust.
Hazardous Chemicals

Workers who use hazardous chemicals during work processes, especially during hydraulic fracturing, might be exposed to hazardous byproducts of oil and gas drilling. The degree of potential hazard depends on individual chemical properties and toxicity, but possible hazards include chemical burns from caustic substances and inhalation of toxic vapors. All employers with hazardous chemicals in their workplaces must have labels and safety data sheets for their exposed workers, and train them to handle the chemicals appropriately. Establishing effective engineering controls and work practices can reduce potential worker overexposures. The following OSHA and NIOSH documents provide guidance on recognizing and controlling these hazards:

Hazardous Chemicals

Relevant OSHA and national consensus standards applicable to these hazards include:

Relevant industry practice documents applicable to these hazards include:

  • AESC (Association of Energy Services Companies) EC 600 Hazardous Communication Compliance Guide
Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM)

NORM might be released from oil and gas formations. Workers at risk of exposure include those who handle pipes and equipment that might have been contaminated with NORM. Sludge, drilling mud, and pipe scales, for example, often contain elevated levels of NORM, and the radioactive materials might be moved from site to site as equipment and materials are reused. Disposal, reuse, and recycling of NORM might cause worker exposures. The following OSHA and NIOSH documents provide guidance on recognizing and controlling this hazard:

Relevant national consensus standards applicable to this hazard include:

  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission 10 CFR 39, Licenses and Radiation Safety Requirements for Well Logging.
Temperature Extremes

Well-site workers are exposed to extreme temperatures and should take precautions to stay safe. The following OSHA and NIOSH documents provide guidance on recognizing and controlling this hazard:

  • Campaign to Prevent Heat Illness in Outdoor Workers. OSHA Campaign. Lists resources and controls to prevent heat-related illness.
  • Protecting Workers from Heat Illness (PDF*). OSHA-NIOSH Heat Illness InfoSheet (2011). Provides information to employers on measures employers and workers should take to prevent heat-related illnesses and death.
  • Occupational Exposure to Heat. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page. Provides information on heat-related illnesses, first aid, and prevention measures.
  • Protecting Workers from Heat Stress (PDF*). OSHA QuickCard. Covers heat stress in brief.
  • Cold Stress. OSHA Safety and Health Guide. Provides information on cold stress, and preventing injury and disease related to cold weather.
  • Heat Stress. NIOSH Safety and Health Topics Page. Lists NIOSH publications and current research into occupational exposure to high temperatures.
  • Cold Stress. NIOSH Safety and Health Topics Page. Lists NIOSH publications and current research into occupational exposure to high temperatures.
Fatigue

Workers might experience fatigue due to long shifts and when working multiple days in a row. The following OSHA and NIOSH documents provide guidance on recognizing and controlling this hazard:


*Accessibility Assistance: Contact OSHA's Directorate of Technical Support and Emergency Management at (202) 693-2300 for assistance accessing PDF materials.

All other documents, that are not PDF materials or formatted for the web, are available as Microsoft Office® formats and videos and are noted accordingly. If additional assistance is needed with reading, reviewing or accessing these documents or any figures and illustrations, please also contact OSHA's Directorate of Technical Support and Emergency Management at (202) 693-2300.

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