Oil And Gas Industry: Evaluating Health And Safety Procedures And Protocols

Overview Of The Incident

Presence of combustible hydrocarbons is one of the intrinsic dangers in oil and gas industry in the locations where oil and gas refineries are situated. Whether the product is stored or transported, health and safety related issues have always been doubtful for oil and gas industry. Activities involved in such industries include seismic and drilling, construction, facility operations, road and marine transport, etc. Although, in recent years many organisations have been able to understand the needs of implementing health and safety procedures in their work premises still, monitoring failures have been identified that results unexpected fatal incidents. Oil and gas industries as compared to other industries have been seen more prone to hazardous incidents which can be made out from figure 1 in this report. Every year millions of people die due to work related issue and occupational accidents (MEYERS, 2016). Deaths relating to oil and gas industry has heavy toll in developing countries where larger number of people are involved in hazardous activities such as construction, mining and oil and gas refineries. Therefore to identify health and safety protocols and procedures becomes significant so that preventing and managing such fatal accidents becomes uncomplicated for the management. Conveying company’s structure, practices and responsibilities for implementing health and safety include various processes after performance and work procedures are identified. Health and environmental management can be integrated in oil and gas industries management systems to ensure health and safety of people and environment or else future of this industry can see more undesirable effects. This report will investigate one of the most hazardous events recorded in history of oil and gas industry that took place in April 20, 2010 in Deepwater Horizon at Gulf of Mexico, US. By identifying health and safety protocols and principles this report will make recommendations to BP for procedures and legislative changes in its operations so that failure in safety and health or operational breakdown can be avoided in future course of business.  


Figure 1: Number of injuries and deaths in oil and gas industry (Mason, 2015)

The Deepwater Horizon drilling unit exploded on 20th April, 2010 in which the unit caught fire and eventually sank in the ocean resulting in huge release of hazardous substances, gasses and oil from BP’s well in Gulf of Mexico region. All the initial efforts to minimise the risks after the explosion took place were unsuccessful. After 87 days from this incident, the well exploded natural gases and oil uncontrollably and continuously into the Northern Gulf in Mexican region. The U.S. district court reported that approximately 3.19 million barrel of oil were unconfined into the ocean. This incident has been reported as one of the most fatal accidents in the U.S. history where the combined volume of release oil were about 12 times larger than Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 (Raunek, 2017).

Protocols Related To Oil And Gas Industry


Figure: Major accidents related to oil and gas industry (BBC News, 2011)

The accident took place in the evening when fire broke out in the drilling rig where the crew members were engaged in their regular work. The well is dig to a depth of 2.5 miles that is approximately 13,000ft below the ocean floor. The entire accident can be the result of human blunder and technical failure that tragically killed 11 people while injuring 17 of the crew members. Shattering the marine riser, the rig sank after two days of explosion. The pipeline that was connected with the rig, measuring approximately 1 mile, was a blowout preventer on the sea floor of the rig. According to the prevention made, the blowout should have automatically triggered the explosion but due to improper maintenance, it did not functioned at the time and failed to activate itself. Along with it, other subsequent efforts to control the blowout preventer with other vehicles on operating area also failed in preventing the blowout. After one week, BP boarded an effort to develop repression option for blowouts in deepwater. 

Many techniques were adopted including cofferdam, forcing mud into the well from its top, rising insertion tube instrument and capping the heap. But all went in vain. Oil travelled up through approximately about a mile and formed thick surface slicks. Until 19th June 2010, oil covered in around 15,300 square miles of the ocean. Winds and currents carried the oil slicks to the Gulf States stinking more than 1,300 miles of shoreline including beaches, estuaries, bays, and marshes of Texas to Florida Panhandle (SINCLAIR, 2017). Lighter oil compounds that evaporated from the slicks were exposed in the breathing air of organisms like sea turtles, marine mammals and many other creatures. Many attempts were taken by the company to collect and disperse oil and other chemicals to reduce wildlife and human exposure. Physical removal of oil substances along with burning of floating oil on surface of the water were also undertaken near sea shore area. Along with it, fresh water was released in the sea shore areas to keep beach and other fishery closures and livestock remain less affected from sea water.

Many researchers and research councils have provided with several regulations and protocols that are required to be followed by oil and gas industries. Joint investigation teams investigate with compilation of government regulations that whether the oil refinery plants have sufficient maintenance to safeguard workers health and environment. The main purpose behind revolution of offshore oil and gas industry’s relating health and safety protocols is to reduce risks related to offshore accidents (Robinson, 2010). While establishing safe work environment, strengthening offshore safety management and minimising accidents across the industry requires continuous improvement endeavour. BP oil spill incident was due to human error and mechanical dysfunction that establishes the need of risk precautions and safety measures in its operations.

Industrial health and safety procedures


Source: (Energy Central, 2018)

 Since US demands for more energy as shown in the above figure, exploration of oil and gasses and its production process are likely to prolong despite current downturn in prices of crude oil. Therefore, enabling safety and health related precautions to avoid major catastrophes becomes essential. Showing concern while enabling protocol and regulations in operations of oil and gas industry will sustain safe work atmosphere for workers along with safeguarding the environment.

3Industrial health and safety procedures

The industrial health and safety problems can occur during the decommissioning and production of petroleum refining process. Health and safety related issues shall be identified on the basis of work safety or risk assessment related to particular work. Health and safety management can adopt structured and systematic management planning to prevent and control hazards related to physical and mental health of workers. There are various operational phases in which workers have to face health and safety dangers that include deficiency in oxygen in atmosphere, process safety, fire and explosions and chemical hazards (International Finance Corporation, 2007).

Process safety: Due to characteristics of oil and gas industry, this program can be implemented in its operations to include safeguarding from chemical reactions and counter effects of hazardous materials. Process safety management includes actions like physical testing of dangerous materials and their reactions, reviewing the process of chemistry and engineering run through by analysis’s research. Such analysis may include kinetics and thermodynamics. Assessment of preventive maintenance must become mandatory while integrating utilities and process equipment. Along with it, training and educating employees while giving those instructions relating emergency response recovery shall be applied (Candreva et al., 2013). 

Deficiency of oxygen in atmosphere: The release of gases like nitrogen and hydrocarbons results in creation of suffocating atmosphere due to disarticulation of oxygen. Therefore preventative methods shall be implemented for such conditions. Designing placement of ventilators to ventilate hazardous gases shall be made according to industrial standards. Automatic shutdown systems after detecting uncontrollable situations can be initiated to force ventilation and reduce the time for releases.

Chemical hazards: Releasing hazardous chemicals like hydrofluoric acid, methanol, hydrogen sulphide, etc. can result in occupational exposure dangers. Such harmful releases can injure severely while providing long term effects. These hazards shall be managed on the grounds of job safety analysis along with hygiene surveys. Measures to protect workers including training, information about personal protective equipment and work permit systems can be undertaken by oil and gas industry’s management system. Alarms can be installed to detect level of releases in gases so that responsible teams are reported at once (OSHA Publications, n.d.).

Evaluation of health and safety protocols

Fire and Explosions: These kinds of hazards are generated by process manoeuvre in which release of flammable gases takes place. Release of refinery gases results in jet fires and can even give rise to vapour that explodes in clouds in the form of flash lights and fire balls. Flammable liquids that are spread all over the refineries may cause pool fires, and explosions under such conditions become fatal. To prevent such hazards, designing and construction of oil refineries can be made according to international standards that can prevent fire and explosions. Detection of fire and smoke in early stages can also enable prevention steps. Evaluating accumulated vapour in storage tanks can even implement control and preventive techniques (Borthwick et al., 1997). 

Health and safety of community:

 During decommissioning and constructing gases and oils, health and safety impacts to the communities are common. During the operational process, community health and safety is also risked especially during the times of explosions and fatal accidents. Releases of hazardous gases and chemicals in atmosphere has affected to people living around oil refineries. Handling and transportation of oil and gases shall be done in scientific manner so that accidents can be prevented. By implementing programs related to Process Safety management, major hazards can be avoided provided those programs includes special guidelines and protocols. Maintaining mechanical veracity and other critical aspects of process safety can include transportation guidelines for raw and semi processed materials. Emergency planning shall also be applied while preparing Emergency management plans in which local authorities, that are potentially affected, can also participate (Clark et al., 2013).

Environmental guidelines:

Protocol value for effluents and emissions in oil and gas sector are indication of sound industrial policies of countries so that they can be documented with regulatory construction. Through prevention and control of spreading effluents and emissions in environment, the guidelines can be assumed achieved during the operational course. Conditions and work regulations need to be designed according to this framework so that pollution and waste is reduced as much as possible. Protocols related to steam and power generation commotion are also mentioned in Combustion source emissions rules and Thermal power guidelines in which the capacity to which it can be generated must be not more than 50 mega watt. These kinds of guidelines are applicable where direct discharge of indulgent effluents to water surface is done for general purpose. For site specific discharge, levels can be established according to the surroundings and available discharge conditions of collection and handling. While discharging effluents from factory sites, the level must be monitored and must be according to Environmental monitoring guidelines. All actions during normal operations related to environment shall be monitored regularly so that any significant impact is identified in its early stage (Borthwick et al., 1997).

Recommendations to prevent future incidents

Global atmosphere protection:

The emissions and discharge often results in polluting air and atmosphere due to which many problems have arise in relation to green house. There are many international treaties that deals with such issues related to oil and gas industry. General principle of Earth’s protection and precautionary measurements are laid that can be adopted to minimise climatic disorder along with mitigating adverse affects. Implementing national programs to apply precautionary techniques in atmospheric emissions can be introduced by implementing taxes to curb the use of unnecessary energy and emission of oil to the surface of water. Regional level protection can be dealt by enabling protocols for controlling damages to human health and safety by reducing air pollutants and harmful emissions like sulphur, ammonia and VOCs. Persistent organic protocol is focussed on substances that are prone to risk criteria and main reason behind such protocols is to eliminate discharges of some products that can cause disruptions in future. There are many legal protocols applied related to petroleum sector in context to Gas emissions that results in gas flaring (International Labour Office, 2015). 

Industrial protocols:

 Standard laws and environmental principles are applicable to O&G sector under which all the countries have to practice environment protection acts. Thus, legal foundations will provide more specific legislation to deal with matters relating planning, quality of air, protection of water and air. Protection of wildlife and marine creatures along with conservation of biodiversity is also mentioned in Protection acts. These acts without any doubt are directly related to O&G sector and shall be imposed without delay to meet requirements in protecting nature. Although petroleum acts does not contains all the required environmental standards but, provisions laid in them can give basis for secondary normative regulations. The common feature of O&G industry protocols is that they details operational requirements for several activities in work place of oil refineries. The oil and gas industry has been growing under the legal and regulatory pressures to address environment protection and getting improved in its activity. By installing legal frameworks like Environment Protection act, Wildlife Protection Act, Biodiversity acts, Flora and Fauna Act etc. oil and gas industries can gain future prominence. (Vinogradov, n.d.) 

After the incident many steps were taken by the management of BP after it was given a request from health hazard evaluation team. The BP management team showed their concern relating health and safety after the accident of oil release. Affected fishermen were hospitalised along with those workers who were injured in the rig. This shows their response towards health after accidents. Safety and health administrators of the company made a quick survey of environmental health by monitoring the level in which the gasses had spread in the air. Bp even requested to install health and hygiene checkups in offshore activity areas that included beach tourism industry, fishermen, transport services, etc. (Awesome Stories, 2016) Oil skimming and booming conducted by workers including vessel dispersant release were ordered for oil burning so that recovery of oil at shore and offshore could be removed as quick as possible. Although this activity was against air pollution acts, still in regards to human health it proved beneficial. Industry hygienists and other medical officers were conducted on site locations and other Gulf regions to collect data on potential worker exposures, work practice and heath symptoms. Wildlife cleanup along with beach cleanup and waste management activities were conducted in Alabama, Louisiana and Florida. Onshore and offshore activities were monitored by qualified professional judgements to identify any special symptoms relating health and safety in surrounding regions by monitoring activities over there. In case of oil dispersant release incident, evaluations were made to verify level in which air was toxic and what measure could be taken to reduce them. Clean water along with oxygen was dispersed in the site to minimise the effects and protect the living organisms over there (Gibbins, 2011).

Health and safety are those factors that need to be considered significantly by all industries. To bring change in work cultures, sustainable commitment is required for which the managements of the company needs to identify the importance of safe work practice. Safety of health and environment does not need much cost investment but, little consideration and enabling precautionary measures are all it needs. This report will make few recommendations to the management of BP in Mexico so that they can adopt necessary changes in its procedures and legislations to ensure avoidance of such fatal accidents in future. The company needs to make a collective engagement so that participation of employees in setting standard and exchange of information is done in profound way. Each and every employee must be aware of health and safety protocols so that mistakes are minimised (Clark et al., 2013). Bureau of Safety and Environment Enforcement and Petroleum Institute of America along with International Association of Drilling Contractors and other regulatory bodies can take part in making decisions on work processes. It can help the company become independent to focus on other administrative work while ensuring safety in work place (Greenpeace.org, n.d.). Regulators can provide experts to lead and provide guidance to coach workers in sites. By introducing programs relating health and safety, employees can be educated about them and ways through which accidents can be prevented. The regulatory policies and frameworks along with legal considerations shall be modified to inhibit flow of information between contractors and operators. It will help to improve safety culture and protection of individual, environment and workplace (Transportation Research Board, 2016).


The rapid expansion of environmental regulations has made challenging for oil and gas industry to survive without maintaining safety measures in their work culture. The international norms and protocols have affected the O&G activities by modifying their operations in mandate way. The industry has also been seen making legal considerations along with environmental imperative to enhance its operations in continuous fashion. Introduction of health and safety procedures have also made this industry more recognisable in business context. From the above case study it can be made out that investing money is not sufficient in any industry and that all businesses require potential identification of hazards related to their operations. If BP would have installed its precautionary tools in effective manner, avoiding such fatal incident could have been possible. Also, the evaluation teams needed more quick attention than given so that damages made to human, wildlife and atmosphere could have reduced somehow. On concluding note it can be said that consideration of health and environment after corporate structure shall be made mandatory so that all the industries, especially oil and gas, are bound to make consideration related to them. 


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Greenpeace.org, n.d. OFFSHORE DISASTER: Gulf Oil Spill Factsheet. [Online] Available at: https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/wp-content/uploads/legacy/Global/usa/planet3/publications/gwe/2010/Gulf%20oil%20spill%20factsheet.pdf [Accessed 28 April 2018].

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