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NIOSH studies worker diesel exhaust exposure at oil and gas sites

Exposure levels vary widely, workers should be informed of health hazards

Posted December 3, 2018

Diesel engines at oil and gas sites power a range of equipment that expose workers to diesel particulate matter (DPM) that can cause health problems ranging from eye and skin irritation to breathing difficulty, and potentially cancer. Despite these dangers, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) says little information is available about the health risks of exposure during oil and gas extraction.

Using California’s occupational exposure limit for comparison (less than 20 micrograms per cubic meter of air over an 8-hour workday), NIOSH researchers tested DPM levels in 104 air samples on oil and gas worksites from 2008 to 2012. The results showed DPM levels varied widely, from less than 1 to 52 micrograms per cubic meter of air over the workday. The average level measured in workers’ breathing zone samples was 10 micrograms per cubic meter over the workday.

To minimize DPM exposure, NIOSH recommends using alternative fuels, situating diesel-driven pumps away from worksites, properly configuring worksites, and using advanced technologies to control emissions. In addition, training on hazard communication and the danger of diesel exhaust exposure should be part of a safety and health program.

NIOSH says additional research is necessary to understand the risks among specific workers and how to control these risks to minimize exposure to diesel exhaust.

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