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Chemical and physical working environment

A number of physical and chemical factors can cause or contribute to the employees receiving acute injuries or developing a disease over time.

Exposure to chemicals, noise, vibrations and heavy physical work are some of the factors that might contribute to disease and injuries.

Musculoskeletal complaints are the most common reasons for absences due to work-related illness and people being put on a disability pension. It is well documented that musculoskeletal complaints can be caused by physical work loads as well as psychosocial issues.

Many employees in the petroleum industry have jobs that involve relatively heavy strains, such as static work, heavy lifts, difficult work positions and work above shoulder height. This is also reflected in the statistics on possible work-related illness reported to the PSA. Around 300 musculoskeletal complaints are reported annually.

Work-related hearing damage is both a health problem and a safety problem. Hearing damage is a serious matter and a chronic one which over time reduces one’s life quality as well as one’s ability to work. The number of reports seems to remain stable with between 150 and 200 cases a year.

It is regrettable that the occurrence of hearing damage seems to have stabilised at a high level. Noise-related hearing damage develops over a long period, however, and it is not realistic to expect major short-term effects of measures introduced in the work place. It is therefore important that the industry, based on what we know of the causes of hearing damage, continues the improvement work in this area.

The petroleum industry makes extensive use of chemicals in various work processes, such as drilling, production and maintenance. Much attention has been paid to the chemical working environment for several years, not least because some people may have received long-term injuries from chemical exposure in previous years.

The companies in the petroleum activities must have good management systems and a robust practice in place when it comes to chemicals. Choosing the right technical solutions, chemicals replacement, mappings and risk assessments are key factors in ensuring that employees do not get injured or develop long-term disease on account of their work.

Today the authorities as well as the industry and research institutions are making use of what we know of chemical factors in the working environment. Specific regulatory requirements and standards have also been developed, and both the authorities and the industry itself monitor compliance with the requirements.

Knowledge gaps
Although the mapping of exposure and health risk was and still is deficient, it is also true that the industry generally has a high professional competence, and that both management and employees understand the hazards related to the use of chemicals. The activities are also characterised by a precautionary approach to work with chemicals.

The authorities have increasingly been focusing on the companies’ ability to maintain a total risk management of the chemical working environment. The technical, environmental and health-related properties of the chemicals need to be seen together.

There is reason to believe that some groups of employees may have been exposed to high concentrations of chemical substances – and that this may have had long-term effects. One might also reasonably presume that the risk of health damage is considerably lower today.