Oilfield workers and the risk of heat stroke

Working in an oilfield puts workers at risk of heat stroke, especially during the hot summer days in Texas. According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, workers performing their job duties in direct sun under hot conditions, such as found in many oil and gas well operations, are at a higher risk than other workers for experiencing heat stroke.

The most severe heat-related illness is heat stroke, but workers might also experience less severe problems such as cramps or rashes. When the heat index is 91 degrees or higher, the risk of workers developing this condition grows. Other contributing factors include:

  •        Performing hard physical labor
  •        Wearing protective clothing, which is often non-breathable
  •        Working near heat sources or hot objects
  •        Not having acclimated to higher temperatures
  •        No movement of air
  •        Increased humidity

In situations where there is heat stress, dehydration and death can occur when the body's internal temperature rises. Excessive heat reduces a person's ability to cool down through sweat and other natural cooling methods. In the early stages of heat stress, a person might become irritable or start to have difficulty concentrating, which could put him or her at an increased risk of injury from an accident.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an important tool employers should implement is to have a person in charge of a heat protection program. Within this program, there should be training so that workers can recognize signs of heat stress, as well as monitoring of workers themselves. Additionally, employers should have plans in place for emergencies, as well as modify work schedules and provide rest and water. Temperatures should also be monitored, and workers need to be acclimated to the outdoor environment in order to reduce their risk. 

The CDC points out that despite OSHA's awareness program for preventing heat stroke, “Water.  Rest. Shade.” there remains some issues, largely due to the agency’s reliance on 5(a)(1) citations – the agency currently has not established a heat standard for employers to follow. The CDC found that there were 20 cases of heat-related illnesses or death during a review of OSHA's inspections during 2012-2013, indicating that more needs to be done to protect workers from this hazard. 

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