Preventing Electrical Shocks and Electrocutions in the Oil Field

Preventing Electrical Shocks and Electrocutions in the Oil FieldWorking in an oil field can be intimidating. Workdays are long. The weather is often unforgiving. Workers can expect to operate outdoors in rain, snow, and the blistering Oklahoma heat. The equipment and work environment can be precarious, and almost anything can happen at any time. To put it bluntly, working in an oil field is not for the faint of heart.

Another hidden danger to oil field workers is the threat of shocks and electrocutions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 5,190 fatal work injuries in 2021, which represents an 8.9% increase over the previous year. Of all fatal occupational injuries for “selected events or exposures” that the BLS recorded, exposure to electricity made up 152 events for the year. This is a whopping 20% increase from the number of electricity-related events in 2020.

Electricity is essential to today’s oil and gas industry. It’s tough to imagine drilling in an oil field without it. So how do workers handle electricity safely in the oil field? Companies must take measures to be as safe as possible, since danger is always just one mistake or spot of bad luck away. To prevent injury and fatalities, all equipment must be manufactured, installed, and maintained properly. A set of standard operating procedures must also be established and implemented.

To prevent shocks and electrocutions, everyone must always follow the five golden rules of electrical safety.

What are the five golden rules of electrical safety?

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends keeping 10 feet away from all power lines as a general rule of electrical safety. If workers must be near power lines or electrified areas, they need to take precautions to prevent shock and electrocution. They should always use nonconductive equipment such as wooden or plastic ladders that have been properly insulated. What’s known as the five golden rules of working with electricity are more specific and are as follows.

  1. Turn off the power source. The number one cardinal rule is to cut the flow of electricity before working on any machine, circuit, or equipment. This is the same concept as turning off your circuit breaker before doing any electrical work in your house.
  2. Always observe proper grounding procedures. Grounding is a technique that routes excess power to a safe place, preferably the ground. Proper grounding can help prevent injuries and fires.
  3. Be aware of feedback. Feedback is unintended electrical energy that becomes trapped within a system. All precautions should be taken to prevent feedback by using proper grounding techniques and ensuring the proper shielding on all wiring. Workers must not assume something is grounded. Always test for feedback and wear the right personal protective equipment (PPE) such as safety shoes, gloves, and fire-resistant clothing.
  4. Check for any active voltage. Workers must be sure a circuit is closed before they enter an electrical enclosure. You may do this using either a type of portable test instrument (such as a portable voltage tester) or a hard-wired absence-of-voltage tester (or AVT). Additional tools and accessories may also be employed for a more robust perspective.
  5. Signal and restrict the working area. OSHA specifies strict lockout/tagout (LOTO) practices to ensure worker safety. This entails keeping certain workers out as well as providing proper training for workers who do have clearance to access the work area. Regular and proper testing and inspection of the workspace is also necessary to make sure there are no detectable electrical hazards.

What electrical hazards do Oklahoma City oil workers face?

The BLS classifies working with electricity as a “dangerous” job. One hundred twenty-six workers died from exposure to electricity in 2020, according to a report by the National Fire Protection Association. The four main types of fatal and nonfatal electrical injuries are:

  • Electric shock. When a live electric source comes in contact with the human body, the electrical current passes through the body’s tissues before moving out. Though electric shocks can be painful, they are generally not fatal. They most often result in short-term symptoms, such as muscle damage and irregular heartbeat. More severe cases may involve coma and heart or respiratory arrest. According to the U.S. National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), there are more than 30,000 nonfatal shock incidents every year.
  • Electrocution, or being electrocuted, is often confused with receiving an electric shock. Unlike electric shock, electrocution is always fatal. OSHA’s official definition of electrocution is “to kill by electric shock.”
  • Burns and arc flash burns. Five percent of all burn-unit admissions in the U.S. are attributable to electrical injuries. Electrical burns are the result of a worker touching some wiring. Touching something that is physically hot can cause thermal burns. Arc flashes are high-temperature events that occur when electricity becomes airborne between two conductive surfaces. Arc flash burns tend to be very severe due to the intensity of the heat. Workers should always wear proper PPE to protect against all types of burns.
  • Falls due to contact with electricity. If a worker encounters electricity when they are at a great height, a fall can cause serious injury or even death. Workers who must climb derricks to perform their jobs are at a higher risk of falls, for example. It’s crucial that all workers follow safety guidelines carefully and properly wear their fall protection gear when operating high off the ground or the next lower level of a structure.

Who is most likely to be injured by an electrical hazard?

Anybody can be injured by an electrical hazard. In the broadest context, a hazard even includes lightning events. In the United States, lightning strikes caused 444 deaths, according to CDC data collected between 2006 and 2021. In the oil field, work sites are populated by skilled laborers who are operating at various experience levels in their careers. This includes everyone from drillers, derrick hands, floor hands, process operators, and oil field roustabouts to petroleum engineers and pipeline engineers. Different roles put you at risk of different events.

Electricians are also at increased risk of electrical injury in the oil field since they work directly with electricity and electric circuits on a regular basis. The odds of injury are simply higher just going by statistics.

If you were injured on the job, you’ll want to call an oil field injury attorney who is knowledgeable about oil field cases in Oklahoma.

With 105 years of combined experience, the personal injury lawyers at Cunningham & Mears will be able to assist you with your personal injury claim. We’ve proudly served Oklahoma City for 25 years. Not in Oklahoma City? We also handle cases from all across the great state of Oklahoma. Contact us today for a free consultation.