Three ways LED lighting solves safety concerns for shale gas operations

LED lighting can improve shale gas operations by providing better illumination for routine maintenance, improve overall visibility, and reduce exposure to dangerous materials.

By Luis Ramirez July 8, 2019

From the drill site to the compressor station to the processing plant and storage facilities, the safety of workers and the surrounding community are a top priority in the shale gas industry. Due to the volatile nature of the raw materials, maintaining the highest standards of safety and security is made more challenging by the similarly volatile nature of the industry.

Amid wide-swinging fluctuations in market pricing and demand, companies across the value chain are often caught in a pendulum of productivity — high prices and high demand drive ultra-high productivity to take advantage of the opportunity, while low prices and low demand signal slowdowns and idling.

These fluctuations also cause major priority shifts when it comes to investing in equipment and facility upgrades. When the pressure is on to produce more and profit more, there’s no time for taking equipment out of service for major upgrades. But, when the market is down and production is curtailed, it may be too risky to sink capital into facilities that could be shuttered for months or years.

But, failing to invest in safe facilities puts workers—and the reputation and profitability of the companies who employ them — at severe risk. Keeping up with modern technology upgrades is crucial to maintaining safe sites, as well as a competitive advantage in the high-stakes shale natural gas business.

Surprisingly, some of the top safety hazards in the business are related to the use of antiquated, poor-quality lighting. Upgrading from conventional high-intensity discharge (HID) lighting to light-emitting diode (LED) lighting can not only save energy and lowers costs, but it also can improve shale gas facility safety.

Here are three of the main safety concerns in the shale natural gas industry and how industrial LED lighting can lower the risk and keep workers safe.

1. Routine maintenance. Performing maintenance in a natural gas facility is one of the most dangerous aspects of site operation. Anytime a task requires a ladder, manlift or any other kind of elevated work surface, the risk of a fall-related accident goes up substantially. Not to mention, nearly every use of electric-powered tools or equipment requires a fire watch due to the risk of igniting airborne vapors.

Unfortunately, the widespread use of conventional HID lighting creates one of the most common routine maintenance headaches in any facility. Due to high vibration, bulbs fail continuously. That means workers must use a ladder, manlift or some other elevated surface to change blown bulbs — a task that puts them at serious risk of fall or fire. The alternative — leaving burned-out bulbs unchanged — is hardly an option because that increases the risk of injury due to poor visibility.

Upgrading to solid-state industrial LED lighting can virtually eliminate routine lighting maintenance and the safety risks associated with it. Because there’s no delicate filament or bulb to break, LED fixtures can withstand the rigors of gas facility operation — including being mounted directly onto a drilling rig.

2. Poor visibility. When bulbs fail frequently, the tendency is to put off maintenance until a site-wide shutdown or a substantial number are out so that it impacts visibility to the point that it absolutely must be done. But, inadequate lighting is the leading cause of slip, trip and fall accidents, and the second leading cause of injury caused by contact with objects and equipment.

The unnatural orange glow produced by conventional HPS fixtures, commonly used on shale gas sites, also makes it difficult to identify obstacles and distinguish colors. This creates a problem when interpreting color-coded hazardous material placards or when performing electrical work where the difference between cutting the blue wire or the red wire could mean life or death.

In addition, the low color rendering index (CRI) of HPS lighting also creates a dismal environment that can affect employees’ energy and alertness levels. With physical labor, 24-hour operations and 12-hour shifts extremely common in the shale gas businesses, fatigue and drowsiness can be a key contributor to accidents and injuries.

Increased illumination has proven to decrease accident rates by as much as 60%. Industrial LED technology provides crisp, clear, white light that mimics daylight, which helps improve workers’ visibility, safety and alertness. In one study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), floor trip-hazard detection improved by 23.7%, and a CDC/NIOSH study found that workers could detect trip hazards 94% faster with LED lighting in place.

Furthermore, the white light of LEDs encourages alertness and reduces fatigue by a factor of 5X, helping workers to feel more awake, engaged and less drowsy on any shift. In fact, studies have shown that LED lighting can even enhance worker productivity and efficiency

3. Hazardous material exposure. By their very nature, shale natural gas sites pose a significant risk of hazardous material exposure for workers. Raw material vapors, diesel engine emissions, hydraulic oils, frack solutions, lubricants and cleaning solvents are everywhere. All of these are accompanied by material safety data sheet (MSDS) information, proper training in handling, and storage and containment procedures. However, one exposure issue that many facilities don’t consider is the hazardous material emitted by broken HPS light bulbs.

Each HPS lamp contains 10-50 milligrams of mercury — enough to poison an entire classroom of children above threshold limits. While there is a strict exposure limit for occupational exposure, many do not consider the toxicity risk of exposure from broken bulbs, even though these are extremely common.

Switching to industrial LED lighting eliminates the risk of lighting-related toxic material exposure completely. LED fixtures contain no mercury or other hazardous substances. With so many other potential contaminants on-site, which are unfortunately required for shale gas production, eliminating this one is a no-brainer.

Shale gas operations are, by nature, a relatively risky and dangerous business. Taking every precaution to protect workers’ safety is an absolute necessity for companies at every stage of the value chain. While some threats can only be minimized to a point — natural gas will always be a volatile material — others that can be eliminated, should be eliminated.

Upgrading antiquated lighting to safe, modern high-efficiency industrial LED lighting is one of the most affordable, effective and responsible safety strategies for any shale gas company. And, because the energy and cost savings continue to add up year after year, LED is a wise investment that will continue to pay dividends — both safety and financial — for years to come.

Original content can be found at Oil and Gas Engineering.

Author Bio: Luis Ramirez, COO, Dialight