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The sound of safety

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Oilfield Technology,

In an exclusive article from the September/October 2020 issue of Oilfield Technology, Yasuyuki Kawasumi, Yokogawa Electrical Corp., Japan, explains why continuous monitoring of noise levels in upstream facilities is a critical step towards improving hearing conservation programmes.

The oil and gas industry, particularly the upstream segment, has many potential hazards. The dangers of flammable and even explosive products are made worse by the presence of toxic hydrogen sulfide. People tend to fixate on the potential for fatalities, but there is a far less visible yet insidious hazard: hearing loss. Given the numerous more obvious safety considerations, hearing loss does not always get the attention it deserves. Nevertheless, the problem is widespread and can affect a high proportion of workers if not dealt with correctly.

Upstream sites generate noise from two types of equipment: temporary (e.g. drilling and completion machinery), and permanent (e.g. pumps, compressors, and other installations that continue to operate during the life of the site). Land-based facilities are less hazardous in this regard, as equipment is typically spread over a larger area and some can be located outdoors, whereas offshore platforms contain more equipment in smaller and more confined spaces.

China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) conducted a field investigation in 2015 to study the effects of noise hazards on six offshore platforms. After measuring sound levels at 373 sites spread across the platforms, the study found that 70% of those sites had noise levels in excess of 80 dB(A). Even 50% of areas without noisy equipment still showed levels in excess of 80 dB(A).1

A study conducted between 2006 and 2015 and published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine found that in oil and gas extraction generally, 14% of noise-exposed workers suffered hearing loss. Natural gas liquid extraction was even worse, as 28% of noise-exposed workers suffered hearing loss.2 Researchers at the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found these levels of noise exposure are associated with elevated cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.3

Hearing conservation practices are a common part of worker protection regulations. Details vary, but a threshold of 80 – 90 dB(A) for a period of 8 hours is typical (Table 1). Workers exceeding the threshold as an average over the specified period of time must be included in a hearing conservation programme. Such worker protection programmes typically involve a mixture of actions:

  • Reduce noise levels by replacing noisy equipment or enclosing it.
  • Change operational parameters where practical so equipment can run more quietly.
  • Compel workers to participate in hearing conservation, including testing and wearing appropriate personnel protective equipment (PPE).
  • Remove any factors that might keep individuals from being able to use PPE effectively.
  • Change work schedules and rotations so individuals do not spend too much time in noisy areas.

Each of these actions requires dynamic monitoring of noise levels, which can now be done using wireless systems. However, before dynamic monitoring can be implemented, baselines must be established.


To read the rest of this abridged article, download the magazine by following the link below.

Oilfield Technology's September/October 2020 issue

The September/October issue begins by looking at the recovery of the North American upstream industry before going on to cover a range of technical features. These include Completions, Software and Automation, MWD/LWD among others, as well as our Downhole Tools Review.


  1. NING, Y. ‘A survey of current status of noise hazard on offshore oil platforms’, (August 2016).
  2. LAWSON, S.M., MASTERSON, E.A., and AZMAN, A.S., ‘Prevalence of hearing loss among noise-exposed workers within the Mining and Oil and Gas Extraction sectors, 2006 – 2015’, (October 2019).
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ‘High Blood Pressure and High Cholsterol Associated with Noisy Jobs’, (March 2018).

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