Ehstoday 2417 Oilworkerhandsafety

Hand and Finger Injury Risks in Oil and Gas Industry

Jan. 4, 2016
Jobs in the oil and gas industry are some of the most hazardous in the world. In addition to fire and explosion risks, there are certain risks – such as injuries to hands and fingers – that workers face on a regular basis.

Hand and finger injuries consistently trend in the oil and gas industry. Historically, hand and finger injuries make up nearly 50 percent of incidents in the oil and gas industry and at some facilities, that number is closer to 80 percent of all recordable incidents.

Threats to the hands include caught between objects and struck by, chemicals, vibration, heat, cuts, bruises, breaks, burns, punctures, amputations, cold and infectious or biological agents. Hands and fingers have more nerve endings per square centimeter that any part of the human body and more pain receptors than any part of our bodies. As a result, injuries are more painful than similar injuries to other parts of the body.

According to the International Association of Drilling Contractors 2014 statistics, hand and finger injuries comprised 43 percent of all recordable incidents on drilling rigs, a slight increase over 2013 (41 percent) and 2012 (40 percent). As a result, companies are concentrating more and more on hand and finger injury prevention strategies.  

Proper Risk Assessment

Proper risk assessment and communication are important in minimizing hand and finger injuries. Identifying related hazards such as pinch points, struck by, cut, puncture and chemical exposure as well as defining suitable control measures should be the starting points for any hand and finger injury prevention plan.

Priority should be given to minimizing employee exposure to unnecessary risks by eliminating hands-on activities if possible or through the implementation of engineering controls. Use of protective gloves should be considered as a last mitigation option in the hierarchy of controls.

Due to the large number of hand and finger injuries each year, most oil and gas companies include hand and finger injury reduction campaigns in their annual HSE plans and define it as one the KPIs. Companies allocate required resources including funding, people and time for implementation of such campaigns. Establishment of a hands and fingers injury working group, conducting awareness sessions, organizing workshops, distribution of awareness posters and introducing better protective gloves are typical activities of these campaigns.   

Increasing awareness of hand and finger injuries and concentrating on risky behaviors that can contribute to them is critical to reducing injuries. Simulating injuries by taping an employee's dominate hand and asking him to perform simple tasks is an effective learning practice, as it helps employees understand why they should care of their hands and fingers all the time.

Having employees who suffered hand and finger injuries speak during training and explain how the injuries impacted the quality of their lives can be very effective in increasing worker awareness. Reviewing safety alerts about hand and finger injuries and regular tool box talks can help increase awareness. Involving employees in activities such as a workplace walkthrough to identify hand hazards can be fundamental in achieving the goal of fewer hand injuries as well.

There is no doubt that the use of hand protection plays a significant role in protecting workers' hands and fingers. According to OSHA, about 30 percent of hand injuries occurred because hand protection was inadequate, damaged or misapplied. High-performance hand protection is required for medium- to heavy-duty tasks – the use of hand tools, pipe handling and valve operation – particularly on drilling rigs "struck by" and "caught between objects" caused 56 percent of the recordable incidents in 2014. The addition of of thermoplastic rubber ribs on gloves to absorb and dissipate impact to the backs of the hands is one of the new technologies that will help decrease hand injuries.

High visibility, waterproof, impact-absorbing, high durability, high dexterity and better grip also are features of gloves used in the oil and gas industry. While wearing hand protection is crucial, selection and wearing the correct type of gloves also is critical. Even though gloves provide high levels of protection, workers are unlikely to wear them for extended periods if the gloves are uncomfortable or hinder their ability to do their jobs.

Using a survey to determine employee use of gloves can help you assess the work environment and determine the type of glove for each task. Many distributors and manufacturers offer the option to trial protective gloves, which can be a good way to establish employee support and assess the suitability of the gloves for your work environment.

Advanced Technology and Special Tools

Certain types of injuries have been reduced on oil and gas drilling rigs by using  advanced technology such as remote control pipe handling systems. Introducing "iron derrickmen" on drilling rigs eliminated the need to have derrickman on top of the derrick and other floormen on the rig floor and reduced exposure to various risks. All operations are performed and controlled by a driller remotely.

In fact, companies operating in some regions such as Norwegian waters are obliged to comply with certain regulatory requirements that require the use of unmanned and remotely operated equipment. However, introducing advanced equipment can create hazards and in some cases, significant incidents have occurred. These include collisions and other interactions between remotely controlled equipment and personnel, between equipment and structures, between different drill floor equipment or within the equipment itself.

Handling and positioning of heavy equipment often results in trapped or crushed fingers and hands. The majority of oil and gas companies and contractors have adopted a hands-free policy where heavy equipment is concerned and initiated comprehensive campaigns to reduce the number of hand and finger injuries. This was achieved by using taglines and push poles for loads and by installing CCTV on rigs and platforms crane booms during lifting operation.

A range of safely products including finger savers, pipe catchers, pipe handling tools, push sticks and load handling straps are produced by different manufacturers and contribute to "hands-free" efforts. The tools are designed to remove workers' hands and fingers from danger zones.

Other Considerations

Clear identification of hazardous areas such as pinch points through the use of color coding and warning stickers can enhance employees awareness and reduce the number of hand and finger injuries. Many equipment manufacturers provide this information on their equipment , but frequent use of equipment and factors such as weather conditions can cause warning labels to disappear and repainting may required.

Many machines have built-in safeguards to protect employees' hands and fingers. Proper guarding on machines and regular inspections to ensure are the guards are not compromised are fundamental in the prevention of body parts to pinch points and the moving parts of machinery.

Selection of proper hand tools is crucial for the prevention of hand and finger injuries. Using the wrong tools for the job or using right tools in wrong way can result in a serious hand and finger injury. Regular hand tools inspections and using protective tools such as "finger savers" in combination with hand tools where practical play a significant role in prevention of injuries.

Banning the use of some tools such as adjustable wrenches is critical, as they have tendency to slip and increase the likelihood of hand an finger injuries.

Finally, a dangerous practice of some employees is the wearing of jewelry. Thousands of people are injured every year when a ring, watch, bracelet or other piece of jewelry gets caught in machinery or pinch points. Most companies have policies and procedures forbidding the wearing of jewelry at work.   

Despite of a lot of efforts by oil and gas companies, the industry statistic indicates that number of hand and finger injuries are increasing year over year. There is no single solution to reduce the number of hand and finger injuries and a range of mitigation measures should be included in prevention strategies.

While improved technology on oil and gas drilling rigs has reduced hand and finger injury risks to certain degree, the technology brings with it new risks that need to be mitigated. The most critical aspect to reduce hand and finger injuries is the involvement of employees injury prevention programs.

Shahram Vatanparast, MSc., CMIOSH, FIIRSM, graduated from Loughborough University with MSc degree in occupational health and safety management. Since 1999, Shahram has worked for major oil and gas operating companies such as TOTAL, ENI, SINOPEC and PTTEP in the Middle East and South Asia regions. Currently, he is working as a freelance QHSE consultant in the oil and gas upstream sector, in both onshore and offshore fields.

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