This time of year is brutally cold, and most of us try to stay indoors as much as possible. However, the oil and gas industry doesn’t break for winter, so our outdoor workers are dealing with the rugged and frigid weather every single day. If you’re new to the industry, or haven’t worked on pipelines, wells, or drills up here in North Dakota before, you need to be extra careful when it comes to winter work.
Gas and oil employees must monitor drilling rigs, wells, pipelines, and other equipment throughout sub-zero temperatures to ensure it continues working properly, no matter what the weather outside. Even with the thermometer dipping to well below freezing, oilfield workers bundle up and work in shifts to get the job done – even if they can only work outdoors for fifteen minutes at a time to prevent injuries and frostbite.
Winter weather and extreme cold can put workers at an increased risk of injury and cold stress, which is the physical toll that low temperatures can take on the body. According to OSHA, “cold stress occurs by driving down the skin temperature, and eventually the internal body temperature. When the body is unable to warm itself, serious cold-related illnesses and injuries may occur, and permanent tissue damage and death may result.”
The most serious issues faced by outdoor workers are hypothermia, frostbite, and trench foot. When oil field workers aren’t properly prepared for the weather and suffer cold stress, they can also make mistakes on the job, causing accidents and injuries.
We have a few on-the-job safety tips you can follow on your own, but you should also ensure your employer is following OSHA’s suggestions for extreme weather preparedness. Your attorney can answer any questions you might have about those job protections.
In extreme temperatures, if you know you’ll be working outdoors, you should plan ahead for cold weather. Wear the right clothes and understand how your body responds to the cold. For example, avoiding things like alcohol, smoking, and certain medications can help reduce the risk of cold stress.
Even the material your clothing is made from can affect how your body reacts to the cold. When dressing to work in frigid temperatures, think wool, silk, or synthetics that retain insulation even when wet. For example, cotton is insulating, but not when wet (like when you perspire). Remember, too, that cold weather is not a deterrent for fires or explosions, and your employer is required to provide you with FR Clothing to help protect you in the event of a flash fire.
Per OSHA, you should also wear at least three layers of clothing, depending on the temperature and how long you plan to be outside.
- As mentioned earlier, start with an inner layer of silk or synthetic to wick moisture away from the body.
- Then, a middle layer of wool or a synthetic to provide insulation even when wet.
- Finally, your outer layer should provide wind and rain protection – with some ventilation to avoid overheating. Layering provides better insulation than tight-fitting clothing, or one big heavy piece of clothing.
Don’t forget your extremities, either. Keep your head covered with a hat or hood to reduce the amount of body heat released from your head. Wear safety insulated gloves. Wear insulated socks and footwear. Try to keep extra, dry clothing at work in case yours gets wet and cold and you need to change.
With the proper processes and planning, oil field and gas workers in North Dakota should be safe, even during harsh winter work. If you’re injured on the job due to cold stress, talk to the attorneys at Larson Law Firm, P.C. for information. We’ll investigate your accident and ensure your rights are protected as an employee. To schedule a free consultation with an attorney, call our Minot office at 701-484-HURT, or fill out our contact form.