Respiratory Protection Equipment For Oil Field Workers

Respiratory Protection Equipment for Oil Field Workers


Oil rig work is perhaps one of the highest paying jobs even for someone who’s still starting. Getting an impressive paycheck is one of the ways oil companies balance out the risks and difficult working conditions their employees face every time they report on-shore or offshore.

Working in an oil rig is being on-call 24/7 and spending two straight weeks performing manual labor, which means more chances of getting injured. With fatigue setting in a while working in an environment where highly combustible materials can inadeptly mix with other hazardous chemicals, it’s not surprising to encounter fires, injuries, or worse, death from machine failures brought about by faulty machinery or human error.

Aside from the hazards mentioned, other dangers you have to be wary of include falling from high places, getting hit by debris, back injuries, muscle strains, drowning, and exposure to toxic chemicals. Working in the oil industry means familiarizing yourself and following the numerous stringent protocols to prevent injuries and maintain a safe environment.

Companies’ standard operating procedures (SOP) include providing safety training and issuing personal protective equipment (PPE) to their employees. Aside from helmets, gloves, overalls, and boots, oil companies also equip their workers with specialized PPEs like respirators.

Respirators are specialized PPEs worn on the face and cover at least the nose and mouth. These wearable devices decrease the risk of breathing in harmful particles from the air like toxic gases, vapors, and infectious agents.

To know more about these specialized protective devices, here are some examples of respiratory protection equipment for oil field workers:

  1. Supplied-air Respirators:

Also known as powered respirators. This respirator is connected to an external source, from either a remote source or a portable cylinder. It supplies clean air via a high-pressure hose connected to a helmet, hood, or facepiece.

Usually, supplied-air respirators equipped with a cylinder are preferred by oil field workers. It is mobile, which makes an emergency escape from immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) environment possible.

Oil and gas field workers commonly use supplied-air respirators due to the hazardous conditions of their work environment. These oil field workplaces are usually too dangerous for the air-purifying respirators due to the lack of oxygen or because of contaminants too intense for APRs to filter.

Supplied-air respirators are used in working conditions where:

  • Airborne contaminants don’t emit detectable odor taste or cause immediate irritation.
  • Chemicals in the atmosphere are poorly absorbed or not absorbed at all by air-purifying respirators;
  • There is a need to protect against substances that may cause a high heat reaction should they come into contact with the chemical filters used in air-purifying respirators;
  • Airborne contaminants exceed the approved limit for an air-purifying respirator.

A particular type of respirator comes in the form of a Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA). An SCBA is a wearable gadget used to provide clean air in life-or-death situations. These devices are usually loaded with a compressed air supply that can last for 30 to 60 minutes; thus, they can be considered self-contained self-rescuer (SCSR) devices.

Commonly called an air pack, the SCSR breathing apparatus is a closed-circuit atmosphere-supplying respirator that provides clean air from a mobile source. This gadget also protects the respiratory system against contaminants found in the air like vapors, toxic gases, and particles supplying the needed air should the wearer be in oxygen-deficient atmospheres.

The escape SCBA or SCSR breathing apparatus should be used to escape in emergency cases and shouldn’t be used in rescuing someone in trouble or for on-site interventions.

During emergencies, SCSRs give their wearer the chance to manage the situation by escaping towards a safer location or pre-equipped refuge should there be no immediate external rescue available.

SCSRs are closed-circuit apparatus that trap carbon dioxide (CO2) from the dead air but differ in how CO2 is processed; hence, there exist two SCSR categories:

  • Compressed oxygen self-rescuer: This type of SCSR uses a compact compressed oxygen cylinder to re-oxygenate exhaled air. 
  • Chemical oxygen self-rescuer: This SCSR, on the other hand, uses a potassium superoxide (KO2) cartridge. The KO2 reacts to the exhaled air in the bag, thus producing an oxygen complement one can breathe in.
  1. Air-purifying Respirators (APR)

They are known as unpowered respirators. Air-purifying respirators are worn to remove contaminants like gases, dust, debris, and other types of particles. This type of respirator is used in surroundings with sufficient oxygen, at least 19.5 percent, and low-level contamination.

There are two categories of APRs:

  • Particle-Filtering Respirators (PFR): this type of APR provides a physical barrier against fibers, fumes, dust, and mist. Usually, the most basic kind of PFR is disposable, fits loosely around the nose and mouth, and needs frequent filter changes to prevent any breathing difficulties. This particular APR is worn when only a small number of contaminants are in the air. To better protect against hazardous materials like asbestos, using a PFR that fits snugly over the face is better. It’s important to note that PFRs don’t protect the wearer against vapors, gases, and oxygen deficiency. 
  • Gas and Vapor Filtering: this type of air-purifying respirator usually has more than one type of cartridge to filter out more than one type of toxic particle. Gas and vapor filtering APRs absorb or chemically changes incoming contaminants from the air.

APRs usually come in four common classes: disposable, quarter mask, half-mask, and full-face mask. A qualified doctor and a safety specialist determine the type of APR to be worn by oil field employees to provide suitable APR that can work against the identified contaminants in the area.

All APRs worn by oil field workers must pass a successful fit –test, and the working environment should continually be monitored as APRs can only filter out hazardous particles and not supply any breathable air.


Changes in oil prices can be quite volatile, especially with the current push towards more renewable energy and as influenced by global and geo-politics. Working in this type of industry means preparing for the harsh conditions that come with that generous paycheck.

One of the best things you can do if you intend to work and stay in this field for a long time is to be overly cautious and to follow safety protocols to prevent any type of accidents or injuries. Familiarizing yourself with the proper devices and protective gears you must use is just one of the fundamental things you should always remember so you remain safe and secure whether you work on-shore or offshore.

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