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Seven Safety Challenges during Oil & Gas Turnarounds

Turnarounds are planned periods of inactivity, when plants or refineries shutdown to get inspected and revamped. Turnaround work can range from simple maintenance operations on a single unit to multi-year modernization plans.

They typically involve intense new activities such as surface stripping, welding, cutting, draining or removing pipework, decoking furnace tubes, catalyst loading and chemical cleaning.

Despite significant planning, unexpected safety risks may occur in all phases of the turnaround. These additional risks originate from new tools, workers’ unfamiliarity with the site and site HSE rules, simultaneous projects operating together, critical lift, work at height etc.

Seven key areas demand special attention:

1.       Confined space entry

Some TA tasks such as inspection and clean-out, are performed in confined spaces. Working in shafts, trenches, manholes and tunnels poses risks such as restricted movement, exposure to vapors and welding fumes, injuries posed by reduced lighting conditions.

2.       Benzene exposure

Benzene is a colorless, flammable chemical used in the production of fuels, as well as a natural part of crude oil and gasoline. It is classified by EPA as a known human carcinogen, therefore benzene exposure can pose health risks through inhalation and skin absorption. Entry prescreening using a rugged, portable multi-gas monitor is ideal for turnarounds.

3.       Lone worker monitoring

With contractor personnel scattered over the job site, data visibility is more important than ever. Managers need to be able to show that each worker is protected and equipment has been tested and is working properly.

Sensor-embedded PPE paired with a cloud-based solution for collecting, storing and analyzing safety data helps managers keep track and report on all compliance-critical data. But more importantly, they know when people are safe, regardless of their location. Smart PPE is especially effective for real-time incident awareness and speedy evacuation in case of an emergency.

4.       Hot work

Construction work during a turnaround may happen on furnaces inside process units. If the temperature exceeds normal levels, there’s a risk of heat stress as well as high noise levels. Welding, brazing, soldering also pose a risk of fire and explosion, while hot work equipment may leak flammable gas into the workspace. A hot work permit is required before entry, for every shift.

Additionally, installing or removing insulation materials poses risks of airborne dust. If the TA involves servicing refinery utilities, such as diesel-powered electricity generators, fumes, and excessive noise may be present.

PPE should be used to protect workers from gases and vapors in non-drained systems, abrasive aerosols, dusty materials, asbestos, equipment noise or ultraviolet radiation.

5.       Accessibility to safety data

Sometimes, the varied tasks performed during a turnaround create chaos. Managers are required to perform site-wide PPE asset inventory, along with regular administration and supervision of the overall safety practices. Using a connected cloud-based safety solution that facilitates real-time information from gas detectors – compliance, worker location, man-downs – is very helpful in managing people and assets as effectively as possible.

6.       Worker fatigue

Worker fatigue is a serious concern. Fatigue costs employers in the United States more than $130 billion a year in health-related lost productivity, according to recent research by the National Safety Council.

“Fatigue is a hidden danger in the workplace, but now we’ve tackled the measurement and modeling of fatigue through wearable sensors, incorporating big data analytics and safety engineering,” a three-year study by The American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) Foundation reads. “Information is power, so knowing when, where and how fatigue impacts worker safety is critical. You can’t identify solutions until you pinpoint the problems.”

Read more about how you can reduce worker fatigue.

Turnaround planning starts with a management system to achieve effective control of health risks.

Honeywell's gas detection solutions can help you keep track of assets, by centralizing data collection and documentation. Learn more, here.