If you work in the Texas oil fields, your primary concern will likely be your safety. However, you may not know what precautions to take if your employer fails to inform you of all the potential safety hazards you might face. Some of the most significant dangers are invisible, and they might be your biggest threats.
Along with the known hazards such as excessive noise and confined spaces, your employer must provide training that will teach you how to recognize chemical hazards. These hidden hazards can cause skin conditions and occupational diseases of organs, such as your lungs. Once you can identify chemical hazards, you can also learn what precautions to take to stay safe.
Silicosis is a deadly lung disease that develops from the inhalation of fine respirable crystalline silica particles that are typically invisible to the human eye. However, they lodge in the walls of your lungs, and long-term exposure can result in lung cancer. Silica is the primary ingredient of hydraulic fracturing sand, and any work that you do in an area where the loading, unloading, storing or moving of the sand takes place will expose you to silica inhalation. Only an appropriate respirator can help protect you from this hazard.
H2S is a colorless, flammable, toxic gas that has a rotten egg smell. It is a by-product in the crude oil refinement process and also in natural gas purification, and it can be deadly — even in low concentrations. H2S is heavier than oxygen and often accumulates in low areas. An added danger is the fact that exposure to the gas quickly robs you of your sense of smell, giving you the false impression that the lack of the foul odor means there is no longer a risk of exposure.
This is a chemical element that occurs naturally in oil and gas, and concentrations could be high in some formations. Mercury can be present in heat exchangers, coolers, separators, piping and valves when processed fluids cool in gas reservoirs. Mercury vapors can affect you when you do repairs and maintenance on this equipment. Chronic exposure can cause tremors, a dazed feeling, nervousness, hearing and vision impairment, and other central nervous system problems. Contact can irritate and burn your eyes and skin, and it could affect your kidneys.
Naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM)
Radioactive materials like uranium, radium, thorium and radon are naturally present in the crust of the earth. Handling, transporting and disposal of scale from the brine of oil recovery or drilling fluids and sludge can expose you to elevated NORM levels. It can also be present in wellheads, piping runs, separator flow lines, storage tanks, valves and other oil and gas components.
Consequences of exposure can be severe
If your employer fails to provide the necessary safety training and the appropriate personal protective equipment, you could suffer long-term health consequences. Although the Texas workers' compensation system provides benefits to cover medical expenses and lost wages, proving these to be work-related could be a challenge. This is where the skills of an experienced workers' compensation attorney come in. A lawyer can assist with the legal and administrative procedures of the claims process to help obtain the benefits to which you are entitled.