Fall Protection for the Oil and Gas Industry

The oil and gas industry is vital to our nation’s economy. As technology continues to advance, engineers and safety professionals are able to produce creative and ergonomic ways to access oil and gas reserves. This process has greatly expanded the oil and gas industry. As the oil and gas industry continues to expand, keeping oil and gas workers safe must be a high priority. The oil and gas industry is very dangerous because workers are often exposed to chemical, physical, and biological hazards, such as toxics, extreme temperatures, and bacteria. In addition, workers are also exposed to contact injuries, fires and explosions, falls, and confined spaces.

A standard fall protection system in the oil and gas industry should consist of:

  • a self-retracting lanyard (SRL).
  • secondary protection with another SRL attached to a different anchor point.
  • an oil and gas specific full-body harness.
  • descent devices to provide a quick, safe escape for emergencies.
  • trauma relief straps for post-fall arrest.

There are many fall protection specific hazards in the oil and gas industry.

  • Climbing the derrick ladder
  • Transitioning from the derrick ladder to the derrick
  • Swing fall
  • Inclement weather
  • Entanglement of the SRL in moving machinery parts
  • Adequate fall clearance for low applications, such as pipe racks
  • Specialized fall arrest equipment, such as for welding
  • Environmental challenges, such as poor lighting and greasy pipes
  • Hindered movement due to tight spaces
  • Often entering dangerous, complicated areas not accessed frequently
  • Entrapment hazards

Climbing a derrick ladder is often necessary to service different areas of the rig. As a result, many workers climb the derrick ladder, often in excess of 100 feet tall, many times throughout the day. The ladder can be greasy, icy, or extremely narrow, all of which could lead to a fall. Ladders are often offset, requiring workers to transition from one fixed ladder to another. This transition can pose challenges to fall protection systems because workers must be protected during the transition.

Because of the dangerous nature of the oil and gas industry, proper fall protection training is very important. There are three basic levels of training: competent person, qualified person, and authorized person. OSHA defines a competent person as “one who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them." Every team leader, rescue team leader, and day-to-day supervisor should be certified as a competent person because they must ensure that workers are following the proper fall protection procedures.

OSHA defines a qualified person as “one who, by possession of a recognized degree, certificate, or professional standing, or who by extensive knowledge, training, and experience, has successfully demonstrated his ability to solve or resolve problems relating to the subject matter, the work, or the project.” The qualified person should understand all fall protection standards, equipment, and systems used at the workplace. The qualified person’s main responsibilities include supervising the design, selection, installation, and inspection of certified anchorages and lifelines and participating in accident investigations.

OSHA defines an authorized person as “a person approved or assigned by the employer to perform a specific type of duty or duties or to be at a specific location or locations at the jobsite.” Authorized person certification is the basic level of fall protection training that every oil and gas worker must have if they work at height. Certified authorized persons should be taught how to recognize and eliminate or control fall hazards, how to use written fall protection procedures, and how to understand and follow fall protection regulations, employee roles and responsibilities under these regulations, and post-fall rescue procedures.

Through proper training and proper use of equipment, oil and gas hazards can be avoided and conquered, and more importantly, oil and gas workers can be kept safe.

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Nathan Muller

Senior Technical Writer | Rigidlifelines.com
Nathan Muller is the Senior Technical Writer for Spanco and Rigid Lifelines. Nathan has nearly four years of experience in technical communications and copyediting. He graduated from Bob Jones University with a B.A. in English and a minor in Professional Writing. He is also a member of the Society of Technical Communication.