Oil and Pipeline Contractor Safety Issues: A Closer Look

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Today's news focus on oil prices and the related hike of gasoline at the pump has everyone concerned. The talking ''heads'' on radio and television beat the anti-corporation drums all day long, but do they or the general public really understand what it takes to build pipelines or bring the product to market? Does the average person know the safety requirements for a pipeline contractor? Better yet, do the pipeline contractors know and ensure that these safety measures are met at each and every job site? Having natural gas to cook on your stove is a great thing. Getting the gas from producer to the customer is a difficult operation. It does not need to be a dangerous, however, provided the construction company is willing to create a safe work environment.

Construction companies are the most often cited industries for violations of OSHA standards. Unfortunately, this statistic relates to the high number of accidents, injuries, and deaths that the construction industry traditionally has each year. The fines and citations can be avoided if safety rules and regulations are followed. Management at a company must create a safe working environment. An environment that does not allow for unsafe activities to become the norm. The OSHA standard governing the construction industry, 29 CFR 1926, is a long and comprehensive standard. The standard includes several subparts that govern specific areas of construction, specifically those areas related to activities a typical pipeline construction company could be involved with. Everything from trenching, scaffolding, welding, and hoisting.

If your company is involved with trenching or excavation, then you need to know and understand the safety rules and regulations under 1926 Subpart P. This subpart covers the scope, application, and provides the definitions applicable. In addition, Appendixes A–F provide additional guidelines and regulations relating to soil classification, sloping and benching, timber shoring for trenches, aluminum hydraulic shoring for trenches, alternatives to timber shoring, and selection of protective systems.

The rules and regulations for trenching were created to help prevent injury or death on your company’s construction sites. Sadly, not every company feels the need to comply, and some have the attitude that “We have been doing it this way for 20 years and nothing ever happens.” This simple lapse in judgment leads to a cave in, workers are trapped, and now you have a rescue that is being broadcast on the national news stations all over the world. Not the kind of publicity most companies are interested in.

Another necessary function in the pipeline construction is welding. The OSHA standard governing hot work, or welding, is 29 CFR 1910.252. The standard sets common-sense requirements to prevent explosions or physical harm to workers such as burns.

Potential Hazard:
  • Getting burned by fires or explosions during hot work.
Possible Solutions:

The basic precautions for fire prevention are:
  • Perform hot work in a safe location or with fire hazards removed or covered. [1910.252(a)(1)(i)]

  • Use guards to confine the heat, sparks, and slag and to protect the immovable fire hazards. [1910.252(a)(1)(ii)]
Special Precautions:
  • Do not perform hot work where flammable vapors or combustible materials exist. Work and equipment should be relocated outside of hazardous areas when possible. [1910.252(a)(1)(ii)]

  • Make suitable fire-extinguishing equipment immediately available. Such equipment may consist of pails of water, buckets of sand, hoses, or portable extinguishers. [1910.252(a)(2)(ii)]

  • Assign additional personnel (fire watch) to guard against fire while hot work is being performed in locations where anything greater than a minor fire might develop [1910.252(a)(2)(iii)(A)] or if any of the following conditions exist:

    • Appreciable combustible material is closer than 35 feet to the point of operation.

    • Appreciable combustibles are more than 35 feet away but are easily ignited by sparks.

    • Wall or floor openings within a 35-foot radius expose combustible material in adjacent areas, including concealed spaces in walls or floors.

    • Combustible materials that are adjacent to the opposite sides of metal partitions, walls, ceilings, or roofs and that are likely to be ignited by conduction or radiation.

  • Fire watchers shall:

    • Have fire-extinguishing equipment readily available and be trained in its use.

    • Be familiar with facilities for sounding an alarm in the event of a fire.

    • Watch for fires in all exposed areas, try to extinguish them only when obviously within the capacity of the equipment available, or otherwise sound the alarm.

    • Maintain the fire watch at least half an hour after the completion of welding or cutting operations to detect and extinguish possible smoldering fires. [1910.252(a)(2)(iii)(B)]
Trenching, welding, and typical construction activities are one thing. How do you get the pipe to the job site, and how is it handled from there? OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.179 is the general standard for hoisting safety, but, once again, the construction industry standard 1926 has a Subpart N that is specific to cranes, hoists, elevators, and the use of conveyors. Please note that your state may have additional requirements relating to the operations of hoisting equipment. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, for instance, requires an operator to have a Class 1A, 1B, or 1C hydraulics license, depending on the type of equipment being used on site. Be sure to contact your local authorities to be sure you meet all state and local requirements.
Additionally, OSHA standard 1910.178, governing power industrial trucks (PIT or forklifts), will come into play if equipment is used on the construction site. Be sure the person operating the Lull has been trained and is authorized to operate the equipment under your company’s power-industrial-truck-safety training program.

About the Author

Patrick is a seasoned executive who has successfully implemented high-growth strategies in numerous industries. Today, he works with entrepreneurs and business owners to enable them to lead their businesses to the profitability and success they desire.

Patrick’s diverse background includes business development, general management, operational development, sales, human resources, customer relations, safety training, management coaching, disaster recovery, and management consulting. He is adept at the management of day-to-day operations, building high-efficiency teams, and the creation of safe working environments. He has a keen understanding of the needs of start-up operations during extreme growth periods and the necessity of successful systems integration.

He has held senior management positions at several companies, in both the private and public sector, in a wide variety of industries.

He is the founder of VanTyle Business Solutions, Inc., a business-advisory firm located in Sharon, Massachusetts. VanTyle Business Solutions, Inc. provides business owners with practical advice and services that work. Through strategic business solutions, your company will become more viable and profitable, therefore improving both your business and personal life. As our company motto states, “Solutions are key to success.”
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