Although oil and gas jobs maybe among the most dangerous jobs in North America, there are other jobs that are often even more dangerous and claim more lives per year on average than oil and gas jobs. Included among these high-risk jobs are crab fishing, logging (trees), farming or ranching, collecting garbage, and commercial flying.
Oil rig accidents are usually prevented by designing and building (engineering) the rig environment and structures in such a way that explosions, fires, gas leaks, etc. don't happen in the first place; or that if such hazards do occur, they should not cause serious injury to personnel or major damage to equipment. Examples of engineering controls include electrically grounding equipment to prevent static electrical discharges and installing flammable-vapor filters on the air intakes of diesel generators to prevent explosions during gas leaks. After preventative and protective engineering solutions, the second line of defense against rig accidents involves the formulation and implementation of work and safety protocols that prevent accidents and minimize their consequences. These protocols are designated as administrative controls. A good example would be the rule that no one should stand under a load that is being lifted by a crane or a winch, or that people who climb stairs should always hold on to the railings.
But the application of engineering controls can be impeded by cost-cutting measures and their effectiveness can be confined by the limits of current technology. On the other hand, administrative controls can become outdated, or they can be poorly enforced or surreptitiously circumvented. Inadequate training also often lead to ignorance and mis-application or non-application of administrative controls.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) comprise the third and final element of defense against potential accidents. If engineering and administrative controls fail to provide adequate protection, personnel have to rely on their PPEs all the time to protect them from ongoing low-level risks and also to withstand infrequent but sudden high-level risks (such as flash fire and blowout hazards) to enable them to rapidly distance themselves from the source of the hazard/s.
The personal protective equipment for personnel working in the oil-and-gas industry usually come in separate pieces designed to protect a particular body part and are designed to provide protection mostly against one or more of the following types of hazards: impact, penetration, and compression by hard and/or massive objects, extreme temperatures, flames, and explosions brought about by flammable liquids, gases, and dust particles, exposure to toxic or irritating chemicals, excessive noise, slippery floors, and in some situations falls from heights. Insulating materials are also usually included for some PPEs that are intended to be worn in cold weather.
There are numerous categories and standards for each category of personal protective equipment. Standards usually vary by territory (region, country, province/state, etc.). Some of the standards are similar or have overlapping provisions, while others differ significantly in the degree or type of protection that they specify. Improvements in PPE design in recent years usually involve increasing the protective rating of a product (against one or more categories of hazard/s) or designing a specific PPE to meet as many standards as possible in order for the PPE to be acceptable in as many territories as possible. PPEs are also increasingly being made partly or wholly from synthetic materials such as nylon, aramid, and modacrylic fibers, PTFE membranes, polycarbonate resins, etc.
Newer PPEs offer better protection against multiple types or categories of hazards (a coverall, for example, that has very low permeability to oil and is also resistant to flash fire). But presently, there are no widely available PPEs for the oil-&-gas industry that offer protection against a wide variety of hazards. For example, there are puncture/cut-chemical-abrasion resistant gloves but they are not fire-retardant and blunt-trauma-resistant as well. Also, there is no widely available integrated head-gear protection that provides chemical-splash, blunt-trauma, and excessive-noise protection in one go. Separate devices must be combined in order to achieve protection against these multiple hazards.