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Open thief hatches an immediate danger to life and health

If you work at an oil or gas well site, you know what the thief hatch on a crude oil storage tank is. You may also know that the vapors and gases inside those tanks pose significant dangers to you and your co-workers.

If your duties include fluid transfer, gauging or disposal of the material in those storage tanks, you need to take certain precautions in order to avoid suffering a work-related accident. The concentration of hydrocarbon gases and vapors that escape when the thief hatch is open tend to exceed the lower explosive limit and create an immediate threat to your life and health.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s 2016 report

When looking into how many oil and gas workers suffered injuries or lost their lives from 2015 to 2016 due to certain, defined exposure to HGVs from an open thief hatch, NIOSH found the following:

  • Ten people total suffered injuries during 10 separate incidents during this time.
  • Eight people total died during eight separate incidents during this time.
  • Nine of those workers suffered exposure or injury and six died at well sites.
  • One of those workers suffered injuries and two died at wastewater disposal sites.
  • Five of those workers required hospitalization and two died due to explosions/fires.
  • Three workers required hospitalization and two died from exposure to hydrogen sulfide.
  • Two workers suffered injuries and one died due to HGV exposure.
  • Three workers died from sudden cardiac death due to exposure to HGV.
  • Three suffered injuries and two died while tang sampling or gauging.
  • One suffered injuries and four died while transferring fluids.
  • One suffered injuries while removing tank bottoms with a vacuum truck.
  • One died doing grinding on the top of a tank.
  • One worker suffered injuries while doing heat treater work.
  • One worker died conducting an unknown activity at an open thief hatch.
  • One worker suffered injuries while transporting wastewater.


Each of the workers was dealing with certain fluids such as crude oil or wastewater at the time of injury. As you can see, there is no set activity or site where these injuries and deaths occurred. While you cannot predict when, where, or how you could suffer serious or fatal injuries while working with open crude oil storage tanks, the majority of these types of accidents are preventable.

Accidents are always a concern

Your employer should provide you with the training, tools and equipment you need to go home safely after your workday. If you do suffer injuries, you could receive workers’ compensation benefits to help you through your recovery.