Workplace exposures Oil and gas

NIOSH: Workers face chemical exposure during fracking


Washington – Workers who gauge tanks during oil and gas extraction flowback procedures may be exposed to dangerous levels of benzene and other volatile chemicals, according to NIOSH.

The agency released its findings in an Aug. 21 blog post that detailed exposure assessments for workers involved in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Fifteen of 17 samples exceeded NIOSH’s recommended exposure limit for benzene, a known carcinogen, while direct reading instruments indicated an elevated risk for fires during flowback operations.

NIOSH offered nine recommendations to reduce the potential for occupational exposure:

  • Develop alternative tank gauging procedures.
  • Develop dedicated sampling ports other than thief hatches.
  • Provide worker training for flowback technicians.
  • Limit time spent near hydrocarbon sources.
  • Monitor workers to determine exposure levels.
  • Establish a controlled perimeter around flowback tanks.
  • Provide workers with portable flammable gas monitors.
  • Use respiratory protection when necessary.
  • Use impermeable gloves around tanks and when transferring process fluids.

NIOSH said it hopes to collect more feedback from stakeholders in drilling and well servicing to continue exposure evaluations and help develop controls. People interested in participating can email the agency at [email protected].