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Flowback testing work conditions exceed benzene exposure limits

Workers in Pennsylvania who conduct flowback testing during gas and oil extraction could be overexposed to the carcinogen benzene, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. In a recent post, the agency summarized its evaluation of volatile organic compound exposure during flowback testing, and it offered nine recommendations to protect employees.

Flowback is returning fluid from a well bore following hydraulic fracturing, and it is stored in surface tanks. There can be several naturally arising materials in the fluid, including hydrocarbons. Employees use hand-held gauges to test the levels of fluid through hatches on the top of the tanks.

The NIOSH collected urine samples from the workers and air samples from personal breathing zones to test for benzene exposure. Among the 17 air samples, 15 exceeded the agency's 0.1 ppm recommended exposure limit, while six exceeded the 0.25 ppm threshold established by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists. Additionally, direct-reading tools calculated peak concentrations of benzene at more than 200 ppm at many sites. These concentrations, the agency says, were very unpredictable and warrant a conservative approach to protecting employees. Among its recommendations were giving workers respirators, monitoring benzene exposure and providing portable, calibrated flammable gas monitors.

In Pennsylvania, workers who suffer a workplace illness or injury could be entitled to workers' compensation. This might include medical care, which may include hospital treatment, medications and orthopedic and prosthetic devices. The workers could receive lost wage benefits that are equal to about two-thirds of their average weekly wage. Other workers' compensation benefits may be received for partial or total disabilities and specific losses, including disfigurement.

Source: Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, 'About Workers' Compensation"

Source: Occupational Health & Safety, "NIOSH Documents High Benzene Exposures During Flowback Tank Gauging", August 22, 2014

Source: Occupational Health & Safety, "NIOSH Documents High Benzene Exposures During Flowback Tank Gauging", August 22, 2014

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