Eye Safety for Oil Workers

April 15, 2015

Many workers in the oil and gas industry face inherent safety risks on the job. Some of these risks are especially dangerous to eye health and safety:

  • Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) – This is the colourless gas that smells like rotten eggs, and it is naturally embedded in many oil and natural gas deposits. This means that workers may be exposed while at well sites, in refineries or when servicing pipelines. H2S can irritate the eyes, throat, nose and lungs, and cause death within minutes depending on concentration.
  • Mercury – This toxic chemical naturally occurs in many oil and gas deposits, and when petroleum products are stored and cooled, it can condense from its vapour state, appearing in heat exchangers, separators, coolers, valves, and piping. This means workers handling and cleaning these kinds of equipment may be exposed to vapourous or liquid mercury. Vapour exposure affects the nervous system, which can lead to vision problems. Direct exposure to liquid mercury will burn the eyes.
  • Drilling Fluids – The fluids used to flush petroleum products from wells can range from water and mud to specialized chemicals applied at a range of temperatures. The manner in which the chemicals are used means they are agitated, shaken and spun in ways that can cause them to come into contact with a worker’s eyes. Particularly risky are jobs on the drilling floor, in chemical mixing stations, in mud pits and near shale shakers. These fluids can also create mist, meaning they can travel into the eyes.
  • Confined Spaces – Workers must sometimes enter small spaces (boilers, storage tanks, process vessels, ventilation ducts, tunnels, pits) which could contain higher concentrations of hazardous chemicals, any of which may burn the eyes (and affect breathing).

Employers must exercise extreme care in protecting the eye safety of their employees. Having a medically-supervised, recognized program for prescription safety eyewear is one way to ensure safety glasses are consistently used, and properly suited to the environment in which your workers are operating. Contact Eyesafe to learn more.

Remember, be “eye safe”!


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