Common Causes of Injury in the Oil and Gas Industry – Fires and Explosions

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Fires and explosions are another leading cause of fatalities at well sites. The following can help prevent fires and explosions at well sites. We should be reminded regularly of the ever-present danger of fire.

Possible Solutions:

  • Review and discuss work activities to make sure you are familiar with the fire and/or explosion hazards and the controls in place.
  • Establish barriers, or zones, and stay out of areas that could contain flammable liquids, vapors, and/or gases. These areas include the wellhead, tanks (including produced fluid tanks), heater-treaters, tanker trucks, hot oilers, and other equipment and lines connected to the process.
  • Wear Flame Resistant Clothing, but DO NOT wear FRC or any other clothing that is soaked in flammable liquids.
  • Use lower explosive limit (LEL) monitors/meters and evacuate areas with greater than 10% LEL until it is safe to re-enter.
  • Use hot work permits when performing hot work in areas that could contain flammable liquids, vapors, or gases.
  • Watch for signs of kicks and blowouts resulting from sudden down-hole pressure rises. These releases frequently result in fires and explosions.

For a fire, or flash fire, to occur three conditions must be met (often referred to as the “fire triangle”):

  • Fuel must be present
  • Oxygen (O2) must be present
  • An ignition source must be present

For an explosion to occur, the fire must also be in an enclosed area or space, including inside berms and trenches, or inside other configurations of equipment that tend to trap gases and/or vapors.

Well Site Fuel Sources

The potential exists for a fuel source to be present at well sites because hydrocarbons are being extracted. In many instances, flammable vapors and gasses build up in enclosed areas such as berms, trenches, and under the rig structure including the cellar. Make every effort to prevent releases of hydrocarbon liquids, gases, and vapors.

Possible Solutions:

  • Prevent, direct, and/or contain releases through design, installation, inspection, and maintenance of proper equipment and materials.
  • Implement procedures and processes, including adequate well control procedures, and install and use equipment (i.e., blowout preventers) to prevent or minimize releases.
  • Immediately repair leaks.
  • Stop work and/or shut down in a safe manner when a release is possible, is imminent, or has occurred. Re-evaluate the situation (by LEL or other monitoring) before returning to work.
  • Kill the well when conditions warrant.
  • Keep hatches and other openings on equipment closed.
  • Install relief devices and flare systems at safe discharge locations.

Ignition Sources

There are many potential sources of ignition for flammable gases and liquids on the well site. Identification and elimination of ignition sources is key to fire and explosion prevention.

Potential ignition sources include, but are not limited to:

  • Flames or sparks from any source, including non-spark-resistant hand tools
  • Electric and diesel driven motors
  • Internal-combustion engines, including vehicles
  • Non-bonded or grounded equipment (producing static charge)
  • Smoking
  • Welding, cutting, brazing, grinding, or other hot work activities
  • Non-intrinsically safe electric power tools or cell phones, tablets, laptops, two-way radios, and other electronic equipment
  • Vehicles with catalytic converters
  • Portable generators

Possible Solutions:

  • Provide spark arrestors for internal-combustion engines.
  • Post “NO SMOKING” signs before the job begins wherever a flammable gas or vapor hazard exists.
  • Locate “spark-producing” equipment or facilities well away from potential hazard areas.
  • Prohibit vehicles with catalytic converters from the immediate vicinity of the rig.
  • Control vehicle access and parking close to the rig or other sources of hydrocarbons (e.g., shaker tables or tanks). It should be noted that attempting to move vehicles away from a release has resulted in fires and explosions.
  • Prohibit open flames from the vicinity of the rig, considering equipment locations such as hot oilers, heater-treaters, propane heaters, burning trash, etc.
  • Implement a hot work program at the site.
  • Ensure that equipment is properly bonded and/or grounded, including hoses, buckets, and other fluid handling equipment.
  • Implement lockout/tag-out (LOTO) on equipment that could become an ignition source if energized.

A fire today could mean loss of life, personal injury, or property damage. Are you doing your part?


KEMI does not assume liability for the content of information contained herein. Safety and health remain your responsibility. This information is to be used for informational purposes only and not intended to be exhaustive or a substitute for proper training, supervision or manufacturers’ instructions/recommendations. KEMI, by publication of this information, does not assume liability for damage or injury arising from reliance upon it. Compliance with this information is not a guarantee or warranty that you will be in conformity with any laws or regulations nor does it ensure the absolute safety of any person, place or object, including, but not limited to, you, your occupation, employees, customers or place of business.