Oil and Gas Extraction

Participating core and specialty programs: Authoritative Recommendations, Engineering Controls, Exposure Assessment, and Small Business Assistance.

Employers, policy-makers, trade associations, and manufacturers use NIOSH information to prevent hazardous dermal exposures among oil and gas extraction workers.

  Health Outcome Research Focus Worker Population* Research Type
A Unknown (possibly dermatitis, organ toxicity) Hazardous dermal exposures (e.g., drilling fluid) Drilling contractors, small businesses Basic/etiologic


* See definitions of worker populations

Activity Goal 3.5.1 (Basic/Etiologic Research): Conduct basic/etiologic research to better characterize dermal exposure to drilling fluids among oil and gas extraction workers.

Activity Goal 3.5.2 (Intervention Research): Conduct studies to develop and assess the effectiveness of interventions to prevent hazardous dermal exposures to drilling fluid among oil and gas extraction workers.


There were 540,000 workers employed in the U.S. oil and gas extraction (OGE) sector in 2015; nearly two-thirds were employed as contract workers [BLS 2016]. These estimates don’t include thousands more contractors and self-employed workers from other industry sectors working at oil and gas worksites, completing tasks such as hauling equipment and water, constructing roads and new oil and gas well pads, and servicing existing ones. Oil and gas extraction workers face significant risks for a variety of acute and chronic exposures, including hydrogen sulfide, potentially lethal exposures to hydrocarbons [CDC 2016], respirable crystalline silica, acid gases, drilling muds, diesel particulate matter, naturally occurring radioactive material and lead. While field studies are ongoing, much more work remains to fully characterize dermal hazards to workers in the oil and gas extraction sector. In addition, dermal exposures to toxic chemicals used within the industry present a broadly recognized but difficult to quantify burden related to the ability of these chemicals to be dermally absorbed into the body and contribute to systemic toxicity.


Few scientifically rigorous published studies exist for OGE activities. As a result, the magnitude of exposures for workers to the drilling fluids (i.e. muds), minerals, and formulation amendments used during drilling activities are unknown, demonstrating the need for systematic investigations of these exposure risks on worker safety and health. Because of the concerns of workers’ exposures to these drilling compounds, some drilling contractors have implemented engineering controls such as operator control rooms, enclosures for drilling fluids and (drilling) mud pits, exhaust ventilation, automated samplers, remote handling of additives, and barriers to separate travel pathways from areas of increased exposure [Steinsvag et al. 2006; Murray et al. 2009]. To date, there are no scientifically rigorous studies that assess the extent of the use of such controls throughout the industry or the effectiveness of such interventions to control exposures during the U.S. onshore drilling process. NIOSH has established credibility with this industry, including a track record of conducting useful, objective research, and a successful collaborative council with partners from industry, academia, and trade associations.

BLS [2016]. Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/cew/External

CDC [2016]. Sudden deaths among oil and gas extraction workers resulting from oxygen deficiency and inhalation of hydrocarbon gases and vapors — United States, January 2010–March 2015. MMWR. 65(1):6–9.

Murray C, Clark G, Epps L, Lin T [2009]. Sampling for oil mist and hydrocarbons on drilling rigs in northeast British Columbia. Vancouver, Canada: WorkSafeBC, Worker and Employer Services Division, Prevention and Occupational Disease Initiatives, https://www2.worksafebc.com/PDFs/petroleum/sampling_oil_mist_hydrocarbons_drilling_rigs.pdfCdc-pdfExternal.

Steinsvag K, Bratveit M, Moen BE [2006]. Exposure to oil mist and oil vapour during offshore drilling in Norway, 1979-2004. Ann Occup Hyg 50(2):109-22

Page last reviewed: April 24, 2018