Protecting Oil and Gas Workers from Hydrocarbon Gases and Vapors


Washington, DC – NIOSH and the California Department of Public Health have collaborated on a video intended to protect oil and gas extraction workers from deadly hazards linked to manual gauging and fluid sampling on production tanks.

At least nine deaths occurred between 2010 and 2014 because of a combination of insufficient oxygen and exposure to hydrocarbon gas when a thief hatch was opened on a storage tank.

When a thief hatch on the top of a tank is opened, an immense plume of hydrocarbon gas and vapor can escape, creating a toxic atmosphere that is oxygen deficient and highly explosive. Workers can experience issues with their eyes, lungs and central nervous system – immediately in some cases – and may develop abnormal heart rhythms, leading to dizziness, disorientation, loss of consciousness and possible sudden cardiac death.

The video features footage taken with an infrared camera to make the plume visible.

Workers who manually gauge how much oil and water is in a tank, as well as oil haulers who collect samples before loading oil onto trucks, use thief hatches. Both types of workers often have long shifts in various kinds of weather, the video states, with many working at night and alone.

The video also contains recommendations for workers and employers.