Business is booming in the oil and gas industry. And an increased number of workers on rigs, at refineries and in other dangerous working environments translates to more workers at risk on the job.

Among the many dangers faced by oil and gas workers is exposure to hazardous chemicals, putting workers at risk for injuries that include chemical burns from caustic substances. It is imperative that workers have quick access to an emergency drench shower and eyewash in case an incident occurs. Specifying emergency equipment for some locales may be straightforward, but many worksites in the oil and gas arena present certain challenges to consider when choosing and installing equipment.

What the standards say

OSHA’s 1910.151(c) Medical services and first aid standard states: “Where the eyes or body of any person may be exposed to injurious corrosive materials, suitable facilities for quick drenching or flushing of the eyes and body shall be provided within the work area for immediate emergency use.”

For more comprehensive guidance regarding emergency equipment and its use, companies must look to the ANSI Z358.1 standard. This standard specifies minimum requirements for the performance and use of emergency shower and eye/face wash equipment, as well as establishing guidelines for installation, test procedures, maintenance, temperature requirements and worker training.

Oil and gas industry worksites can present unique challenges to meeting some requirements of the ANSI standard. These challenges can include extreme temperatures, harsh environmental conditions, space constraints, remote locations and a lack of potable water.

Extreme environments

Oil and gas sites often operate in extreme environments that range from the cold and icy conditions of the Arctic to hot and dry conditions of the desert and the corrosive environment of offshore oil rigs. Environmental conditions pose challenges to the integrity and safe operation of emergency equipment.

Water temperature: The ANSI standard requires the use of tepid flushing fluid for all types of emergency equipment applications. ANSI recommends a tepid water temperature between 60° and 100° F to allow the injured individual to complete the full required 15-minute drench or irrigation cycle. (Section 7.4.4)

Excessively hot water can scald an injured worker and potentially exacerbate chemical reactions. Water that is too cold can cause hypothermia and prohibit the full 15-minute drench period. Additionally, a worker who feels chilled may be reluctant to remove contaminated clothing, inadvertently extending the amount of time he or she is exposed to caustic substances.

Both high heat and cold temperature conditions pose challenges to meeting ANSI’s tepid water requirements either by heating water standing in pipelines to a high temperature or causing supplied water to be extremely cold. A range of solutions is available to ensure the delivery of tepid water to emergency equipment, including engineered mixing valves, tempered water solutions and recirculation systems.

Air temperature: Air temperature can be another cause for concern. ANSI Z358.1 Appendix B6 states: Colder ambient temperatures might require an enclosure for added protection — even with water supplied in the ANSI Z358.1 specified temperature range, there is a high risk of hypothermia for wet victims exposed to frigid ambient temperatures where loss of body heat is intensified by the effects of evaporative cooling and wind chill. It is crucial that the proper safety shower system is provided to prevent an incident where hypothermia could intensify an injury to a victim already in a hazardous situation.

Customized, ANSI-compliant enclosed safety solutions are available for all climates, with features that include insulation, built-in heaters, water-proof and freeze-proof properties, corrosion resistance and more.

Salt water: Offshore platforms require stringent attention to materials due to the corrosive nature of the sea water and other chemical exposures. Booths and systems designed for outdoors must also meet wind and seismic conditions. Custom corrosion-resistant enclosures with stainless steel plumbing and specialized electrical components such as junction boxes and electrical conduit can contribute to the longevity of a system on these platforms.

Equipment accessibility

When it comes to emergency equipment, location is key. The ANSI standard stipulates that emergency showers, eyewashes and combination showers/eyewashes must be accessible within 10 seconds, must be on the same level as the hazard, and the path of travel shall be free of obstructions. (Sections 4.5.2, 5.4.2, 6.4.2, 7.4.2)

Some oil and gas industry locales may present challenges to equipment placement such as tight quarters, potential barriers to access and a lack of floor space. For example, some areas in an oil refinery where the rail cars come in are off ground. You must ensure that shower and/or eyewash equipment is at the same levels as the workers.
Areas with less space available may require equipment with a smaller footprint or specially designed configuration.

Another scenario to plan for is the potential for multiple victims and how the equipment will accommodate such an event.

Explosion hazards

Explosive atmospheres are a major concern in the oil and gas industry. There are two levels of explosive environments: 1) Areas where gases could potentially be present due to a gas leak, and 2) Areas where gases are always present. These different environments call for a completely different equipment design.

Lack of potable water

Sufficient water volume and pressure are crucial to the proper function of emergency equipment. In remote or isolated locations, limited access to potable water must be considered when specifying equipment. Plumbed and portable units must have access to an adequate water supply at an appropriate pressure and temperature that can support a full 15-minute cycle. A minimum water pressure of 30 pounds per square inch (PSI) should be supplied to emergency drench showers and eyewashes.

The water supply must also satisfy the ANSI minimum flow rate, which is at least 20 gallons per minute (GPM) for drench showers, 0.4 GPM for eyewashes and 3.0 GPM for eye and face washes.

A collaborative effort

When seeking the best solution for your specific needs, equipment manufacturers can prove to be a great source of expertise. Not only can they help with equipment selection, setup, installation and upgrades, they can help capitalize on your existing resources for efficiency and cost-savings.

A knowledgeable manufacturer will analyze your particular hazards, evaluate the current resources you have available and consider your corporate specifications to come up with a solution that ensures you have the right equipment available and ready to go should an emergency occur.