OSHA Issues Internal Guidance On Enforcing Safety Regs In The Oil Patch

At the beginning of December, OSHA issued enforcement guidance to its
Regional Administrators titled “Enforcement Guidance For Upstream Oil And Gas Extraction Industries.”  The purpose is to make sure there are consistent field interpretations of:

– The scope of oil and gas drilling and production;

Applicable OSHA regulations and directives; and

– Common hazards and incidents found in the industry.

The Focus of The Guidance: Generally, there is not much that new or different in the document, but there are a couple of areas that I will focus on at the end of this blog..  Guidance documents don’t break new ground; they are meant to make sure there are common understandings, but that is what makes it so valuable.   Oil and gas operations can be very confusing from a regulatory standpoint.  At certain stages, they fall under the construction standard and at other times they fall under the general industry standard.  Other activities that are integral to drilling and production do not fall under the classifications for oil and gas at all.   There are also a long list of regulations that oil and gas are specifically excluded from and another list of interpretations that target oil and gas.

If it is confusing for the agency, it is also confusing for many in industry.   So the document is a valuable one that can make sure we all speak the same language.  For that reason, industry safety professionals would be well advised to read the guidance and keep a copy handy for reference purposes.

Would you like a copy of the guidance?  OSHA does not appear to have posted a copy online yet, but if you would like to review the document, contact me at info@lifelinestrategies.com.  

What May Be New In The Guidance:  There are two things in the document that are worth paying close attention to.  Neither one is groundbreaking and OSHA has already applied them in other circumstances.  The important thing is that OSHA is telling its field units to pay attention to them as enforcement concerns in Oil and Gas.  That means industry should pay attention to them as well.

  1. Host companies and the role of the company man – OSHA has put out a lot of guidance on enforcement of safety violations on multi-employer worksites, where there is a host company and one or more contracted companies whose employees work on the site.   OSHA’s position is that an employer of any kind is citable if it is “a creating, exposing, correcting, or controlling employer.”  The prominent role that this issue plays in the guidance could signal a move by OSHA to increase citations on both the oil and gas operator and contractors when there is an incident.   The document makes it clear that OSHA is still developing additional guidance on the role that company men play in protecting operator and service company employees from hazards.

  2. Hazards that are not covered by regulations, but are part of industry standards or accepted practice – As safety professionals are acutely aware, OSHA’s General Duty Clause allows investigators to cite companies for hazards that may not be covered by regulations, but employers should have known about.  The document makes it clear that inspectors and investigators can cite employers if something is covered by an industry standard or an accepted practice document, even if it is not found in the regulations.

The guidance contains one example that bring in both the multi-employer and General Duty Clause interpretations.  in the example, an inspector arrives at a drill site to find a crewmember sitting in a truck about 75 feet from the rig with the engine running.   There is nothing in the regulations prohibiting that, but it puts the truck at risk if the drilling rig topples over and it creates an explosion hazard if there is gas near the rig.  An API recommended practice says all vehicles should be at least 100 feet from rig operations.  The enforcement document says the inspector may decide to cite both the operator and the contractor under the General Duty Clause.

This is the OSHA playbook on oil and gas exploration and production.   Safety professionals can ignore it at their own risk!


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