The hazards of excavation in oil and gas

Working in the oil and gas industry comes with its fair share of challenges. As if handling highly combustible materials wasn’t enough of a hazard, oil and gas workers have to drill into the earth to extract the material and transport it through a demanding system. Whether it’s for maintaining current ones or laying new pipes, excavation is a crucial part of the oil and gas industry. And hazards that come with excavation can be avoided with proper planning and training.

Here’s a compilation of the hazards of excavation in the oil and gas industry.

Potential hazards of excavation

The most common types of excavation hazards include:

Falling objects

Falling objects include keeping people, materials, or equipment from falling into the excavation.
We can also include cave-ins under falling objects. A cave-in occurs when an unsupported section of soil or rock falls into an existing hole, creating a larger hole and exposing workers to falling debris or even injuring them directly. Cave-ins can also occur when an unsupported section of soil or rock shifts unexpectedly, causing it to fall into an existing hole or even a different area altogether. They are considered to be one of the deadliest hazards of excavation.

Fire hazards

Fuel leaks or static electricity from equipment that haven’t been grounded properly, can lead to massive explosions. Explosions can also occur when equipment malfunctions or when workers do not follow safety procedures.

Fuel leaks can cause fires, which is why it is important to keep fuel tanks full and not allow them to run low. When tanks are full, the chances of an explosion are much lower.

Here’s a fun example of why this is the case:

Best practices for avoiding excavation incidents

1 – Safe entry and exit

Making sure the people involved are trained and authorized to work around excavations is extremely important. These digging sites should always be planned and designed by competent people, who take every detail including the type of soil into consideration. Providing a clear and safe entry and exit is a must for excavation. The access and egress should be continuous and within reach of at least 25 feet according to OSHA.

2 – Cave-in protection

OSHA claims that every excavation or trench can potentially collapse. That’s why it’s crucial to never enter an excavation that hasn’t been inspected and approved as safe. To prevent cave-ins, the walls must be sloped or benched, supported with shores and shielded with trench boxes. OSHA also requires excavated soil, materials, and equipment to stand at least 2 ft away from the edge of excavations to prevent falling and cave-ins. When inside the trench, always wear proper protective gear during excavation operations. This includes safety glasses, hard hats, steel-toe boots, and sturdy gloves.

3 – Standing water or other hazards

Entering an excavation with standing or accumulated water is prohibited according to OSHA. Water can wear out the sides of the excavation, leading to collapses or cave-ins. Standing water can also block entry and exit routes, making the excavation an unsafe work environment.

4 – Inspecting trenches

A trained and competent person needs to make daily inspections of the excavation work site before the start of the work shift. If there’s been a rain storm or any other occurrence that might potentially be hazardous to work, the excavation must be re-inspected. When determining the safety of the excavation the precautions below are taken into consideration.

  • Whether an excavation wall has been sloped or benched
  • Whether the walls are supported with shores
  • Whether the excavation is shielded with trench boxes
  • Whether there are any signs of potential cave-ins
  • Or if there are signs of soil distress (ie tension cracks, outward bulging, or heaving)

If an inspector determines that the area of the excavation is unsafe, they are authorized to stop the operation.

Although we’ve mentioned the main hazards of excavation, they are certainly not limited to the ones we’ve listed. Workers and employers must always work together to minimize the risks involved with working in such a hazardous and confined space.

Ceren Dulgar

Ceren is a marketing enthusiast who is fascinated by the expansive world of EHS. You can catch her reading about the latest EHS news or advocating workplace safety.