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Reducing inhalation risk

Since 2010 in the US oil and gas industry, at least nine fatalities have been linked to workers measuring storage tank contents (tank gauging) and related activities at well sites. Each tragic incident involved opening a storage tank aperture, known as a thief hatch, on top of the storage tank, and measuring the oil and water levels with indicator tape.

Opening thief hatches is more potentially hazardous now than in decades past because modern extraction techniques produce a different suite of hydrocarbons that includes substantially more gas and other lighter components.

The team in our Petroleum business reduced the risk to immediate health associated with tank gauging by more than 98 per cent – from 15,000 to 260 potential exposures by implementing automatic gauging. For the remaining potential exposures, a strict protocol was developed to manage the risks. This was achieved by applying the hierarchy of controls, informed by detailed hygiene analysis and time and motion studies, and supported by an internal education and awareness program.

Importantly, there has been a significant outreach program to peer companies and the regulator. This included recommending changes to the American Petroleum Institute standards.