Understanding the Dangers of Working At Petroleum Refineries
The United States is one of the largest oil producers (and consumers) on the planet. In the 1980s and 1990s, the United States was responsible for nearly one-third of the world's oil refinery production. Over the last few years, however, dozens of domestic refineries have shut down due in part to new federal and state air, water, and fuel regulations. Not only that, but stricter requirements placed on workplace safety are forcing oil and gas companies to adopt new safety measures, or else.
Though some plants have shut down already, there are still 137 active oil refineries operating in the United States in 2017. These refineries, and the men and women who work there, help power countless other industries, and they deserve the best possible protection and industrial safety equipment available. To continue doing this important work, safe workplaces must be maintained across the petroleum industry, no matter the size of the petroleum plant.
And as the technology used in these refineries evolves, so too do the safety hazards. To help you better understand the risks workers face, keep reading to learn more about the immediate dangers, both physical and environmental, that petroleum refineries can pose.
There can be a number of different air pollutants surrounding petroleum plants that every worker should be aware of. Hazardous compounds like ethylbenzene, xylene, benzene, and toluene, among others, can be dangerous when regularly inhaled in large amounts. Depending on the worker's duties and exposure risk, they may require respirators, chemical suits, and other forms of industrial safety equipment when coming in direct contact with these toxic compounds.
Additionally, refineries are major sources of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide. Though these air pollutants can cause harm on a macro environmental level, they can also lead to serious medical conditions on any individual who comes in regular contact or exceeds the safe exposure limit.
Because of these dangers, industrial safety equipment is essential for any refinery, plant, or similar workplace. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 20 million workers use industrial safety equipment and protective apparel on a regular basis to help protect them from workplace hazards.
For employees who are exposed to even more toxic chemicals, ones that shouldn't even come in contact with the skin, high quality chemical gear is a must have. At U.S. refineries that work with acids like chemical hydrofluoric acid, which is used to make some high-grade gasoline, acid gear is necessary to minimize risks to workers. Everything from chemical protective jackets to protective bibs and gloves should be provided to each and every worker who comes in contact with these hazards.
Fires and Explosions
In addition to corrosive injuries, chemicals found at many refineries can also pose a fire risk. Many of these chemicals have very low flash points. And, of course, oil itself is highly flammable. As a result, oil and gas companies need stringent safety measures in place to protect workers from fire and explosion risks. While these measures involve fire suppression systems, early warning systems, and industrial safety equipment, workers play a crucial role in fire safety, too. Workers must be trained on these safety measures, practice them on a daily basis, and avoid the use of cigarettes, matches, and lighters on the job.
Ultimately, if you run an oil refinery, then it's your responsibility to ensure that every employee who comes in contact with any dangerous chemicals, flammable materials, acids, or air toxins are completely protected. Fortunately, with the right protective equipment and safety and health programs, these risks can be minimized. If you want to learn more about worker safety in the petroleum industry or find high quality protective gear, contact Standard Safety today.