When you think about the oil and gas industry, you might envision the grandeur of an oil rig or simply filling up your tank at a gas station. However, there’s a vast infrastructure network in between, including pipelines, refineries, and storage tanks, which make up a complex industry where safety regulations are paramount.

The Government of Canada has established the Oil and Gas Occupational Health and Safety Regulations to ensure safety across all industry sectors, spanning upstream, midstream, and downstream operations. Given the range of hazards workers face, from exposure to hazardous materials to working at significant heights, these regulations are some of the most comprehensive in any industry.

Upstream operations (exploration, drilling, and extraction)

The upstream sector, involving exploration, drilling, and extraction, poses numerous hazards. Climbing derrick ladders and working on the derrick presents inherent dangers, especially in harsh weather conditions where surfaces can become slippery from snow or ice. Grease, rain, and wind create slip-and-fall risks even under favourable conditions.

Workers on derricks must wear full-body harnesses with shock-absorbing or self-retracting lanyards attached to fall arrest anchor points capable of withstanding significant loads. In case of a fall, a descending device should be available to lower or raise the worker safely. Suspension straps are essential to mitigate the risk of suspension trauma.

Ground-level piping and lines also present trip hazards. Using pipe step-over platforms with anti-slip steps can prevent falls. Larger crossover platforms with safety railings are necessary for more complex piping and changes in elevation.

Offshore rigs, which constitute about 25% of upstream operations in Canada, require extensive safety railings made of aluminum or galvanized steel pipe and fittings to resist corrosion and eliminate the need for on-site welding.

Crossover Platforms

Standards and regulations for upgrader plants

Upgrader plants at oil sand production fields are intricate facilities that demand regular inspections, maintenance, and repairs, including work on rooftop equipment. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) or “tie-off” systems like those used on derricks are commonly employed. Permanent horizontal lifelines are an effective option that can accommodate multiple workers simultaneously. Portable lifelines with freestanding roof anchors are ideal for temporary work.

Midstream operations (transportation and storage)

Oil pumping and gas compressor stations—spaced every 30 to 160 kilometers along pipelines—are elevated to prevent flooding and snow accumulation. Modular work platforms, constructed from aluminum or galvanized steel for strength, durability, and corrosion resistance, facilitate station servicing. Platforms feature non-slip treads for steps and surfaces and include guardrails.

Static work platforms are typically installed for permanent placement, while mobile platforms feature heavy-duty locking casters for station-to-station versatility. Customized platforms can accommodate specific configurations, adjustable heights, and other requirements, ensuring adaptability to changing worksite conditions.

Static platform
Ballasted guardrail

Downstream operations (refineries and production plants)

Refineries and production plants necessitate extensive inspections, maintenance, and repairs of building systems and equipment housed on the rooftop. Fall protection systems, such as vertical and horizontal lifelines with permanent or mobile anchors, offer personal fall protection.

Collective fall protection, like non-penetrating, ballasted perimeter guardrail systems, safeguards workers on roofs without requiring personal fall arrest equipment or special training.

Applications for warehouse and storage functions

Work access platforms are ideal for inventory management tasks, including loading and unloading goods, picking and packing, and organizing, checking, and labeling goods on shelves and storage racks. They can be used in staging and fulfillment areas for distribution centers and the installation, maintenance, and reconfiguration of pallet racks, cantilever racks, and conveyors.

Platforms also allow workers to perform service tasks on material handling systems, heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning equipment, lighting, and other building services equipment. They facilitate cleaning services, fire inspections, and safety compliance checks.

IRATA - Rope Access

Training and Safety Protocols

Training in working at heights is crucial for worker safety. The International Rope Access Trade Association (IRATA) was established to provide safety standards for rope access techniques, originally developed by oil and gas companies for offshore operations. Rope access training not only equips workers with self-protection skills but also prepares them for rescue operations in the event of a fall. It is imperative that workers are fully trained in the inspection and use of fall protection devices.

Midwest and Western provincial citations