Fueling Ergonomics in the Oil and Gas Industry: A Company in the United Arab Emirates Has Recognized the Importance of Ergonomics as an Integral Component of EHS Policies and Practices

Article excerpt

The oil and gas industry has job requirements that are very labor-intensive, and if the employee is not regarded in the job design as well as the equipment and tools that are used, injuries and errors will occur.

Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. (ADNOC), located in United Arab Emirates (UAE), has established a code of practice known as Occupational Health and Risk Management--Ergonomic Factors, which is testament to the fact that ADNOC has recognized the importance of ergonomics as an integral component of EHS policies and practices.

ADNOC shareholders are demanding that guidelines be established to implement ergonomics in the workplace in order to bring the company in line with the top 5 percent of the world's leading oil and gas companies, and to be recognized as a world-class organization. During 2004, the first steps were taken to launch ergonomic awareness campaigns. These programs consist of two phases:

Phase 1 involves the development of an ergonomics awareness program. Ergonomic surveys are carried out at headquarter facilities, laboratories, shipping terminals and off-shore and on-shore operating sites. Ergonomic assessments of the sites are conducted and educational materials are developed and used to raise the awareness of ergonomics among employees across all the facilities.

Phase 2 of the ergonomics program will involve a far more extensive and detailed evaluation of all facilities to identify specific ergonomic exposures that may create the potential for human error and injury. Production may be impacted and a series of ergonomic solutions will be recommended for implementation to reduce or mitigate the pre-identified risk factors.

Industry Risks

The oil and gas industry is a major source of revenues for most countries located in the Middle East and other regions worldwide. Whether it is a U.S.-based refinery and storage facility, or a research and recovery operation off the Niger Delta, the oil and gas industry has many built-in environmental, health and safety risk factors.

The work is performed in restricted spaces, open fields and other outdoor environments such as off-shore rigs and platforms. There are complications of heat, noise, slippery surfaces and a myriad of manual material handling exposures of lifting, lowering, carrying, pushing and pulling tasks. There are electrical issues and fall protection challenges, as well as repetitive tasks such as valve turning, which increases the force risks to the employees.

(See Figure A, "Top Five Injury Types") If ergonomics is not considered during any of the phases, production is affected and employees could be injured. Worker ergonomic and safety awareness is necessary for injury prevention during all phases of drilling operations.

At ADNOC, procedures and processes include ergonomics/safety meetings, ergonomic job assessments and general and task-specific training.

Certified professional ergonomists (CPEs) scientifically identified the apparent and non-apparent risk factors that exist in the working environment through objective measurement techniques and subjective quantification. Processes were devised to train the design engineers, supervisors, medical personnel and employees to identify risks and report through the appropriate system.

It is crucial that the recommendations are implemented and the corresponding feedback is monitored (i.e. injury records) on a continuous basis to ensure positive results, such as reduced injury levels and absenteeism and increased worker morale and productivity.

Some examples of possible ergonomic solutions for the oil and gas industry include:

> Use ergonomics in the designing of jobs and choose equipment and tools that are designed with ergonomics in mind.

> Establish ergonomics policies and procedures throughout the corporation, no matter what the size.

> Train workers in ergonomics for the appropriate handling and use of the special tools required during drill stem testing. …