Oil and gas Workplace exposures

NIOSH seeks info on chemical exposures during fracking operations

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Fracking -- July 2013

Photo: NIOSH

Washington – NIOSH is asking oil and gas workers for information on occupational health hazards experienced during hydraulic fracturing operations, commonly known as fracking.

Although safety hazards are well known at such sites, data on health hazards is scarce, NIOSH stated in a May 19 blog post.

According to the agency, at least four workers have died since 2010 from apparent acute chemical exposures suffered during flowback operations at well sites in North Dakota and Montana. During a flowback operation, process fluids containing volatile hydrocarbons are returned from the well to the surface after the hydraulic fracturing is complete.

NIOSH researchers made the following preliminary recommendations to help prevent chemical exposures during extraction operations:

  • Develop alternative tank gauging procedures to help prevent workers from routinely needing to open hatches on tops of tanks and manually gauge liquid levels
  • Provide hazard awareness training
  • Monitor workers to determine their exposure to volatile hydrocarbons
  • Make sure workers do not work alone in potentially hazardous areas
  • Use appropriate respiratory protection in potentially hazardous areas
  • Establish emergency procedures for providing medical response

Anyone with additional information about injuries or deaths experienced during flowback operations may email NIOSH at nioshblog@cdc.gov.