By: Cressinda “Chris” D. Schlag, Esq.
Over the past couple of years, OSHA has intensified its focus on the oil and gas industry, leading to several proposals for new regulations and the publication of multiple bulletins specific to perceived hazards in oil and gas operations. OSHA’s most recent publication comes in the form of a guideline, titled Hydraulic Fracturing and Flowback Hazards Other than Respirable Silica, which was drafted in the form of an educational bulletin.
The guideline and its appendices emphasize that OSHA has shifted its focus to oil and gas operations for the primary purpose of reducing reportable injuries and fatalities, which are believed by OSHA to occur in the oil and gas extraction industry at a higher rate than most of the U.S. general industry. While the guideline clearly states that its purpose is informational and is not a standard or regulation, the guideline then proceeds to warn employers that they can be cited under the General Duty Clause for failing to adequately protect against known industry hazards. An employer could therefore be cited for failing to protect against one of the hazards identified by the guideline under the General Duty Clause, if the employer failed to take reasonable steps to prevent or abate the hazard.
After identifying primary tasks and issues associated with hydraulic fracturing and flowback operations, the guide emphasizes hazards OSHA has identified as being present during on-site transportation of materials, rigging up and rigging down procedures, mixing and injecting fracking fluids, flowback operations, and operations involving hydrogen sulfide and volatile organic compounds. The guideline then proceeds to suggest “prevention strategies” or methods for controlling OSHA’s identified hazards.
Although the guideline is advisory in nature and does not constitute a regulatory standard, it clearly identifies the hazards that OSHA will be looking for during oil and gas site inspections. OSHA inspectors may also point to the publication as a form of notice of oil and gas industry recognized hazards, such that employers will be expected to have sufficiently protected their employees against these hazards during oil and gas operations. Employers in the oil and gas industry should therefore take time to review OSHA’s guideline as well as their own workplace policies, practices, and training to ensure that any potential liabilities related to oil and gas operations are minimized.