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frack·ing  noun \ˈfra-kiŋ\: the injection of fluid into shale beds at high pressure in order to free up petroleum resources (such as oil or natural gas)

Improved technology has increased the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, over the past decade. The American Petroleum Institute has called the extraction of natural gas from shale "the most important domestic energy development in the last fifty years,” and fracking is one of over 150 new words and definitions added to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate® Dictionary in 2014. The benefits of fracking include the extraction of a clean-burning fuel, job growth and affordable energy.

Yet, as with most operations within the oil and gas industry, fracking sites are fraught with potential occupational hazards. Companies are cognizant of these hazards and most are taking preemptive measures to address these dangers in order to keep their employees safe.

The following is an excerpt of an article written in EHS Today in January of 2013:

"The oil and natural gas industry's number one priority is safety," says Carlton Carroll, American Petroleum Institute (API) spokesman. "We are proud of our strong safety record but even one incident is too many, so we update our standards and best practices on an ongoing basis to improve our record and protect our employees and our environment."

Fracking, Hearing Protection and CommunciationsIf there’s one thing we know about hydraulic fracturing sites, it’s that they are extremely noisy. Hearing protection in these environments is a must, but must hearing protection suffer in order to provide a sufficient means of communications?

During a hydraulic fracturing operation, communication needs to take place constantly between workers in order for critical functions to run safely and efficiently. Functions include, but are not limited to:

  • Ignition or emergency shut down
  • Location assistance of ground or machinery operators
  • Troubleshooting and maintaining sensitive electronic equipment

In many hydraulic fracturing locations today, workers use noise-cancelling headsets connected to two-way radios in order to communicate with one another. These noise-cancelling headsets are currently the solution of choice for many workers although it is often ineffective and dangerous for the following reasons:

  • The headsets block out all the outside noise so workers can no longer talk face-to-face. As a result, workers will often remove the headset in order to hear, risking serious damage to their hearing.
  • Workers are unable to hear the noise and/or voices of the surrounding equipment, vehicles and fellow employees, all of which are important from a safety and troubleshooting perspective.
  • There is no limit on the volume inside the headset, so workers can still exposed to volumes in excess of 110dB just from turning the radio up too loud.

Here are some questions to ask in relation to employee safety around communications and hearing protection for hydraulic fracturing sites:

  • Are communication solutions well thought-out, or are they an afterthought?
  • Do the communication solutions provide for situational awareness, in addition to hearing protection?
  • Is your communication solution compatible with other safety equipment such as:
    • Helmets
    • Respirators: half or full-face models – without obstruction
    • Are these communication solutions intrinsically safe and certified as such?
    • Does your communication solution integrate with other devices such as two-way radio systems, mobile phones, Bluetooth®, etc.?
    • Does the communication solution enhance speech while suppressing background noise?
    • Are noise-cancelling boom mics necessary and/or beneficial for short-range, face-to-face communications?
    • Is there a limit on the volume used within the headset?

Think about how each of these functions operates in terms of your needs:

  • Sanding crew
  • Pump operators
  • Crew cabbers

Does your hearing protection allow workers to have full awareness of their surroundings while also providing the ability to communicate with one another without the dangers of high noise exposure?

If the answer to any of the above questions is “no” or “I don’t know”, feel free to contact a Sensear High-Noise Communication Specialist, who can help you find the right solution(s) for your environment.

In addition, feel free to download the Hydraulic Fracturing Industry Case Study for more information on how Sensear has developed technology that specifically addresses some of the challenges faced by companies operating fracking sites.

Download the Fracking Case Study

Related blog posts:

Why should companies invest in intrinsically safe communication headsets?
Understanding intrinsically safe headset certifications: classification systems and symbols defined
The ultimate cheat sheet on communications headsets for the oil and gas industry

  Download Sensear's 7 Degrees of Hearing Loss Infographic