OSHA proposes oil & gas safety amendments

New drilling safety rules a step forward

OSHA commission approves flame-resistant clothing rule

Fire is always a risk in the production and processing of fossil fuels. The Wyoming Occupational Safety and Health Commission on Oct.5 approved proposed amendments to its oil and gas industry safety rules that will require workers at drilling sites to wear certified fire retardant clothing while working within 75 feet of the well bore. The amendments also call for shut-down devices on diesel engines used on or near the rig that are an integral part of its operation. On Sept. 26, the ESPC and the Wyoming State AFL-CIO submitted written comments supporting the amendments. Both organizations specifically support tying the standards for fire-resistant clothing (FRC) to the latest improvements approved by the National Fire Protection Association. Those standards are developed by a committee of more than 7,000 volunteer industry experts. The NFPA notes committee members bring “a wide range of professional expertise” to its process of developing these standards. The ESPC also delivered a letter signed by several national organizations supporting the new rules. Commission takes action The proposed rules were the subject of a public hearing Oct. 5 in Casper. The commission voted in favor of both amendments. A survey by the Wyoming Oil and Gas Industry Safety Alliance found that nearly two-thirds of its members believe a mandatory FRC rule is necessary. Anadarko Petroleum’s Terry Clark spoke against the flame-resistant clothing rule arguing there have been no documented incidents of flash fires on Anadarko drilling rigs. Joghen Bhalla, vice president of Houston-based AMOT, told the commission that the rule requiring emergency shut-0ffs on engines used to operate the rig should be extended to cover service vehicles such as vacuum trucks and any other diesel engines in the vicinity of a drilling rig. The commission declined to extend the rule to cover such vehicles.  Bhalla’s company makes air intake shutoff valves that can stop an engine in an emergency. What’s ahead? The ESPC has asked state OSHA to develop standards to limit the exposure of rig workers to silica dust during hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health last spring released data from a long study of what is commonly known as “fracking” and found that rig works were exposed to air with more than 28 times the allowable exposure level to silica. Industry officials this summer acknowledged the problem and expressed interest in developing a rule in Wyoming. (See our blog for more information.) (Editor’s note: This blog was updated Oct. 7, 2012 to reflect the OSHA Commission decision on Wyoming’s oil and gas industry safety rules. Read the Casper Star-Tribune story here.)

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