By Omnia Farrag

The oil and gas industry holds some of the biggest hazards in operations. Its workers are often exposed to tough working conditions, in addition to heavy and sensitive materials and machines. Yet, most fatalities in the industry are not caused by heavy equipment or errors in complicated processes. Instead and surprisingly, they are mainly caused by driving mistakes.

“Most of the fatalities happening in the onshore oil and gas fields happen because of driving mistakes. We can secure complicated activities, such as drilling wells without any technical incidents, but we have no technique to prevent car accidents,” Emad Elewa, HSE manager at Apex International Energy, told Egypt Oil & Gas.

Driving Errors Explained

Most of the death accidents in the petroleum industry are caused by highway accidents as workers and equipment have to be transported for long distances to and from the remote areas where the wells are located. While there is no data about fatalities caused by road accidents in the Egyptian oil and gas industry, the American Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that around four out of 10 American workers killed on duty in the petroleum industry are killed as a result of a highway vehicle incident – this number refers to accidents during the transportation of equipment to the oil rigs.

Driving mistakes within the oil field itself is another deadly threat as they are one of the reasons behind struck-by, caught-in, and caught-between incidents. Such incidents lead to three out of each five deaths in the industry, the BLS wrote. These incidents are also caused by moving equipment, falling equipment, and high-pressure lines.

Trucks in The Petroleum Industry 

Beside transporting people and material to the fields, the petroleum upstream industry uses many specialized trucks to carry on operations such as  the swab rig trucks. These oil specialized trucks are used to kick off the well through lowering a cable and winch down into a well in a way that releases pressure in the hole. Vacuum trucks are also commonly used in the fields as they suck water, mud, and other materials resulted from drilling and fracking.

Hot oil trucks are also used to carry on treatments needed for operations such as heating the flow of lines and cleaning equipment blockages. Frac water heater trucks are another type of specialized trucks used for heating the water for the hydraulic fracturing process, a well stimulation technique.

Reasons Behind Driving Errors

Elewa believes that controlling road accidents in Egypt is more challenging than it would be in some other places worldwide, since driving standards in Egypt are not as good as in other countries. “It does not meet the international standards. It is the most significant risk we consider in Egypt,” Elewa added.

Driving fatigue is a common issue that truck drivers face in any industry all over the world. Over 750 people die and over 20,000 are injured each year because of fatigued commercial drivers in the US, according to the American Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). These accidents account to 40% of all heavy truck crashes, the American National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported. These numbers show the deadly effect of having truck drivers to work for long shifts without proper breaks.

“Drug abuse is common among truck drivers to manage driving long trips and staying away from home,” Elewa added. Drugs allow drivers to stay awake for long hours; however, they significantly decrease their concentration causing more accidents. Around 40% of truck drivers who were subject to the Egyptian Ministry of Interior campaign in 2014 were under drugs influence, local newspapers reported citing officials. While the traffic law obliges drivers to carry out drug tests as a prerequisite for driving license, drivers can still get away when caught under drugs influence. They can only be prosecuted if drugs were actually found with them, according to article 30 of the Egyptian traffic law.

In some accidents, route changes become the reason behind fatalities, as there are landmine fields  in specific areas in the Western Desert, including Quattara Depression, Alamein, and the cities of Marsa Matruh, and Sallum. The country has approximately 23 million landmines covering 22% of its area.  “It [truck drivers changing route] happened in the Western Desert and they went through a road that had landmines,” Elewa elaborated.

Some Recommendations

To decrease road accidents, which are proven to be a major cause for industry fatalities, Elewa advised oil companies to have their own oil transportation monitor system. He also recommended to have a clear driving policy and procedures to minimize the risk of driving accidents in the sector.

Experts also advise companies to guarantee drivers the right to take at least a 30-minute break after eight hours of their shifts as the risk of crash doubles from the eighth to the tenth hour of driving and doubles again from the tenth to the eleventh hour.

To avoid incidents, companies are not only advised to train their new employees, but also do refresher training to their old employees. Finally, new roads should be studied before taking any new route – the HSE department should study the risks affiliated with applying new procedures, which includes route changes.