Nitrogen is the antithesis between offshore safety and offshore danger. It plays a critical role in protecting sites where chemicals risk exploding if they come into contact with oxygen, yet its ability to displace oxygen means that it can kill within a matter of minutes.
It is vitally important that anyone working in the energy sector and in situations where they may come into contact with nitrogen are aware of the possible dangers, which are present even when operations are conducted outdoors.
Nitrogen is used across several job sites in the energy industry – offshore assets, pipelines and reservoirs – and is an inerting gas. This is a gaseous mixture containing little or no oxygen and which mainly consists of non-reactive gases or which have a high threshold before they react.
Inerting gases can be split into two categories – those with a toxicological effect and those with an asphyxiant effect. Nitrogen falls into the latter and even if it reduces the oxygen content in the air by a few percent, there can be a substantial risk to life
Nitrogen, however, is essential in many applications. For example, it is used in blanketing to provide a protective layer around storage containers and tanks that contain hazardous chemicals, for purging pipelines in order to reduce the oxygen levels and to transfer flammable liquids under pressure.
Its widespread use – and the fact that it is colourless, odourless and undetectable without specialist monitoring equipment - means that workers need to be acutely aware of the dangers and how it may affect them and colleagues.
There is a safety risk even if operations are being undertaken in the open air, particularly when close to open pipework or manholes, while the hazard is even greater if work is being carried out in a partly enclosed or confined space.
Exposure causes rapid unconsciousness – particularly dangerous when employees might be working at height and at risk of falling. While a slightly reduced level of oxygen may not be life threatening, it can impact on behaviour and judgement that may lead to actions and decisions that are unsafe.
Mintra’s Nitrogen Awareness Training eLearning course, written to current HSE guidelines and industry best practise, has been specifically developed for those working the in energy sector. It gives an overview of how to work safely in a nitrogen-rich environment and outlines situations where it may be encountered.
The awareness-level course lasts for 30 minutes and includes an end-of-course assessment. Learners need to achieve a pass mark of 100% in order to gain a certificate.
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