Elevating Safety in Oil & Gas: Tackling Heat Stress & Fatigue

Elevating Safety in Oil & Gas: Tackling Heat Stress & Fatigue

The oil and gas industry can be physically demanding, with workers spending long hours in hot and hazardous conditions. Unfortunately, some organizations may overlook the dangers of heat stress and fatigue that accompany these conditions, putting their workers in harm’s way. However, there is a solution that can help: real-time physiological monitoring. By swiftly identifying and proactively addressing these risks, this innovation transforms the industry and ensures the safety of those who power it. Here, we explore how pioneering technology is revolutionizing the sector and keeping its workforce safe.

The unseen hazards in the oil and gas industry

Industry-specific challenges

Environmental factors

Operational factors

Pioneering safety in harsh environments with real-time physiological monitoring

Take action: Elevate safety practices with Bodytrak


The unseen hazards in the oil and gas industry

Heat stress and fatigue are not just abstract concerns in the oil and gas industry; they manifest into tangible, and often dire, consequences. Consider workers on an offshore drilling platform during peak summer months. The combination of high temperatures, humidity and the physical exertion required in such environments can push the body beyond its cooling capabilities. Temperatures in the regions where oil and gas extraction (OGE) occurs routinely surpass 37.8°C/100°F.

These situations can lead to heat stress, characterized by dizziness, muscle cramps and heat exhaustion, escalating to heat stroke. In addition, not promptly addressing these conditions can lead to real-life emergencies and, tragically, fatalities in the sector.

Fatigue, equally alarming, often stems from long, grueling shifts that are a common aspect of oil and gas operations, especially during critical phases of exploration and production. The mental and physical toll of operating heavy machinery or performing tasks with precision for extended periods cannot be overstated.

Shift workers, especially those working nights, face diminished alertness when battling circadian rhythm disruptions. This reduction in cognitive function and physical responsiveness can have catastrophic outcomes, such as lapses in operational safety protocols or slow responses to emergencies, risking blowouts or disastrous spills. On 24 March 1989, just after midnight, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez made headlines around the world after it ran aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil. Delayed efforts to contain the spill and naturally strong winds and waves dispersed the oil. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) eventually assigned most of the blame for the oil spill to Exxon, with fatigue cited as the root cause of this significant accident. Unfortunately, fatigue has been cited as the root cause of many other accidents, including (but not limited to) the Texas City Oil Refinery Explosion, Chernobyl, the Clapham Junction Rail Disaster and the loss of the Challenger Space Shuttle.

There is no doubt about it: these risks should not be underestimated. Acknowledging the risks of heat stress and fatigue lays the groundwork for exploring the industry-specific challenges. These challenges amplify the risks, underscoring the necessity for innovative and proactive safety measures in the oil and gas sector.


Industry-specific challenges

In recent years, the oil and gas industry has faced considerable risks connected to heat-related illnesses among its workforce, a concern highlighted by research from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). This research points to the critical nature of these risks, with a study covering the period from 2014 to 2019 revealing nine deaths due to heat stress.

Further emphasizing the need for vigilance, data from January 2015 to May 2021 showed 50 instances of heat-related hospitalisations, underscoring the persistent challenge of safeguarding employees against the severe effects of high temperatures. Factors contributing to these incidents included newcomers not yet acclimatized to working in high temperatures, a lack of adequate training to handle heat stress, and existing health issues such as hypertension or cardiovascular disease.

Given the inherently demanding and dangerous work conditions in the oil and gas sector, it’s clear that employees face unique challenges that increase their vulnerability to heat stress and fatigue. A combination of environmental and operational factors drives these challenges.


Environmental factors

The environmental conditions in which oil and gas operations occur are often extreme. In desert regions, for instance, daytime temperatures can soar well above 40°C (104°F), directly exposing workers to the risk of heat stress. Conversely, in offshore environments, the combination of sun exposure and reflection off the water intensifies the heat effect despite the surrounding water. These temperature extremes, whether in arid or maritime climates, challenge the body’s ability to regulate its internal temperature.


Operational factors

Operational factors add another layer of complexity. The oil and gas industry is synonymous with long shifts extending up to 12 hours or more, often during the hottest parts of the day or through the night, disrupting natural sleep patterns and leading to fatigue.

The physical tasks required, from lifting heavy equipment to operating machinery, demand high exertion levels, increasing the body’s heat production and compounding the risk of heat-related illnesses. Moreover, the protective clothing and personal protective equipment (PPE) required for safety can restrict air circulation and hinder the evaporation of sweat, the body’s natural cooling mechanism, thereby exacerbating heat stress.

In addition, the oil and gas industry often operates in remote and challenging terrains, which increases the risk of heat-related illnesses due to the lack of easy access to medical assistance. The extreme environmental conditions and intense physical demands put workers at risk, and they may need mandatory medical evacuation. These evacuations can be costly, making it essential to have effective health monitoring and preventive strategies in place.

Given these challenges, it’s evident that the oil and gas industry faces unique hurdles in safeguarding worker health. Adopting real-time physiological monitoring technologies offers a promising avenue for early detection and prevention of heat stress and fatigue. By closely monitoring vital signs and environmental conditions, these technologies can alert workers and supervisors to potential health risks before they escalate into emergencies.


Pioneering safety in harsh environments with real-time physiological monitoring

The critical role of real-time physiological monitoring in the oil and gas industry cannot be overstated, particularly when considering the extreme conditions under which professionals in this sector operate. The introduction of monitoring technology, such as Bodytrak’s innovative solutions, marked a significant advancement in ensuring worker safety and enhancing operational efficiency.

Bodytrak 1 IS is an ATEX- and IECEx-certified, state-of-the-art safety solution tailored for the oil and gas industry and other hazardous environments. This intrinsically safe device, designed to meet the stringent requirements for PPE in potentially explosive atmospheres, offers a non-invasive, ear-based monitoring system.

By leveraging its proximity to the body’s temperature control center, Bodytrak 1 IS accurately measures core body temperature and heart rate, providing real-time data analytics. These analytics, powered by proprietary algorithms, compare the collected data against individual baselines, offering personalized insights and alerts to both the wearer and supervisors.

This facilitates timely intervention, significantly enhancing worker safety by preventing incidents related to heat stress and fatigue. In addition, integrating the Bodytrak Platform with advanced mapping solutions further augments its utility by enabling precise location tracking and geofencing capabilities.

The deployment of real-time physiological monitoring devices like the Bodytrak 1 IS offers an unprecedented ability to gauge a worker’s physiological responses instantaneously. During a high-pressure operation on an offshore platform, where environmental conditions can swiftly lead to heat stress, having access to real-time data about a worker’s core body temperature or heart rate can be lifesaving. This immediate insight enables swift action, such as removing a worker from exposure, before a dangerous condition escalates.

Consider a scenario in the remote drilling fields of North Dakota, where winter temperatures can plummet, exposing workers to cold stress, while summer months can present the opposite extreme. In such environments, early signs of distress, potentially masked by adrenaline or focus on tasks, can be accurately detected by monitoring technology, alerting supervisors before symptoms worsen or become apparent to the workers.

Additionally, in the expansive and complex operations of oil refineries, where the combination of heat from processing equipment and environmental temperatures poses a risk of heat stress, Bodytrak proves to be a critical safety tool. It can alert management to workers beginning to show symptoms of heat exhaustion or dehydration, facilitating swift actions like offering rest breaks in cooler areas or immediate hydration. This capability underscores Bodytrak’s pivotal role in safeguarding workers’ health within the oil and gas sector, preventing potentially severe health incidents before they occur.


Take action: Elevate safety practices with Bodytrak

The insights shared in this post underscore a critical opportunity for the oil and gas sector: the time to enhance safety with advanced monitoring technology is now. Bodytrak offers a pioneering solution that transcends traditional safety measures, addressing the unique challenges of heat stress and fatigue head-on.

Commit to a safer future today. Explore Bodytrak’s innovative approach and see how it can integrate into your safety protocols. Embrace this opportunity to lead with safety excellence, improve operational efficiency and safeguard your team against the unseen hazards of the industry.Take the next step: visit our website for more information, contact our experts and start transforming your safety standards. The future of workplace safety begins with your decision to act.

Latest News