In a recently issued memorandum to Regional Administrators and State Plan Designees, OSHA has clarified its policy for citing the general industry personal protective equipment (PPE) standard, 29 CFR 1910.132(a), for failure to provide and use flame resistant clothing (FRC) in oil and gas well drilling, servicing, and production-related operations.  In the March 19 memorandum, OSHA provides guidance to its compliance officers (CSHOs) on when employers must provide and ensure the use of FRC and, thus, when citations under 29 CFR 1910.132(a) may be issued.

The memorandum sets the following specific citation guidance:

  • In drilling operations, FRC is usually not needed during initial rig up and normal drilling operations prior to reaching active hydrocarbon zones, unless other activities warrant their use.  Once active gas or hydrocarbon zones are reached, appropriate FRC must be worn by exposed employees working on the well site prior to drilling into identified gas or hydrocarbon zones.  FRC should also be worn when there is a history of fluid or gas kicks from underground producing zones.  And, once FRC is provided per these circumstances, employees should wear the FRC until the final casing is cemented and the well is effectively closed.
  • In well servicing operations, CSHOs are tasked with determining whether FRC is provided and worn during well servicing or workover operations, such as pulling wet string tubing, snubbing tubing, swabbing operations, etc.
  • In production-related operations, OSHA also concludes that the potential for flash fire exists, and advises CSHOs to specifically examine certain operations for citation, such as equipment openings, gauging, transfer of hydrocarbons, and maintenance operations on production equipment.

If citations are warranted, CSHOs are provided the following sample language to use:  "The employer failed to provide and ensure the use of flame-retardant treated clothing (FRC) necessary to protect employees from burns due to potential flash fires."

OSHA’s recent memorandum is important for employers in oil and gas well drilling, servicing, and production-related operations and they should thoroughly review it to ensure that their current practices are fully compliant with OSHA’s expectations.