Employers in the oil and gas industry know that keeping workers safe on the job isn't easy. Workers at extraction sites can be exposed to toxic vapors, oxygen-deficient atmospheres, and even fires and explosions when opening tank hatches. Because this task can result in the release of high concentrations of hydrocarbon gases and vapors, it can lead to loss of consciousness or even death. The good news is that there are ways to make a day on the job safer:

1. Increase worker distance

Use alternative tank gauging and sampling procedures to let workers monitor tank fluid levels and take samples without opening the tank hatch.

2. Sampling ports

Retrofit existing tanks with sampling ports to minimize worker exposure to hydrocarbon gases and vapors. By eliminating the need to routinely open thief hatches to sample, these sampling taps should also minimize the need for workers to access the top of tanks.

3. Pressure indicators

Install pressure indicators to provide a visual indicator of tank pressures and potential hazards. By showing workers the pressure in the tank, these allow a trained worker to follow appropriate procedures, such as actuating a blowdown valve, venting gas to a flare or using respiratory protection.

4. Industrial hygiene

Assess workers' exposure to hydrocarbons and other contaminants. Consult an occupational safety and health professional certified in industrial hygiene to make sure the right air-sampling strategy is used.

5. Update languages

Provide training in a language employees understand so they know the hazards associated with opening tanks. Post signs at access stairs, catwalks and tanks to alert workers about precautions that need to be taken, as well as the risks they face.

6. Reinforce training

Make sure workers are trained on correctly and consistently using calibrated multi-gas and oxygen monitors that measure percent lower explosive limit and oxygen concentration.