Ice makes work in the oil and gas industry bone-chilling for two reasons: one—it’s cold and, two, it’s a slippery and unpredictable hazard.

“The biggest challenge with ice,” says Dave Hanik, a Drumheller, Alberta-based lead mechanic for the Clearwater Business Unit at Encana, “is that you often can’t see it, so you face the unexpected. You may be walking and all of a sudden you start sliding sideways. You might miss an access road in your vehicle and then find yourself sliding on black ice. A pipeline might be frozen, but you don’t know exactly where.”

Walter Bucher is the executive director and an ice rescue instructor with Smithers, B.C.-based Raven Rescue. He says another challenge for workers facing hazardous ice conditions is having the knowledge and the skills to deal with it.

“Most people think ice is static and hard and it doesn’t change. It’s actually very dynamic, almost like plastic. Put pressure on it and it will change quickly. Temperature, air currents and other factors can all affect a worker’s safety techniques and tactics when they are on or around ice.”

Ice rescue

Ice rescue

Ice may be made of water, but the two don’t always mix.

Shawn McKerry, deputy fire chief, Fire Services in Parkland County, Alberta, helps manage five fire stations with 122 volunteer firefighters. Once after a winter industrial fire, he was going out of a building and to avoid slipping, grabbed a metal handrail.

“Almost instantly my water-soaked fire gloves froze to the railing,” McKerry recalls. “Nearby firefighters had to help peel me off.”

Wim H. Jolles, a naval architect and ice specialist with Canatec Associates International Inc., has worked in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, Sakhalin and Kazakhstan on off- and onshore drilling and construction projects since 1980.

He says an important safety aspect when working with ice is to provide operators with accurate ice charts in near real-time and other information that they need, including ice thickness, ridges, rubble, old ice and iceberg population and their drift.

Jolles says if Arctic operations are conducted safely and according to plans, they are no more hazardous than operations elsewhere. However, their consequences or risks are significantly larger.

12 tips for working safely on and around ice

When working on foot outdoors

  • Lay down salt or sand to create traction
  • Wear ice cleats on work boots for traction
  • Clear water, ice and snow from walkways and stairways
  • Keep up to date on weather conditions.

When driving

When working on ice cover (on streams, rivers, lakes, etc.)

  • Take an ice rescue course
  • Always work with at least one other person
  • Carry an ice pick and hollow braid rope for rescues
  • Learn the causes of cracks on ice cover. They include: excessive loads, differences in thickness and buoyancy, snow cover/snow banks, contraction and expansion, wind, fluctuating water levels and dynamic waves
  • Know the ice thickness and the total load it can bear.

Ice insight

Not all ice is created equally and so does not “behave” the same. The colour and shape of ice can indicate its strength.

  • Clear blue ice is strongest. It grows below the ice surface and contains few air bubbles and water can be seen below it.
  • White, opaque or snow ice is half as strong as blue ice. Opaque ice is formed by wet snow freezing or water flooding on top of the ice.
  • Grey ice is unsafe because it contains water.
  • Frazil ice is slushy, a combination of water and ice made in moving water. It too is “weak” or unstable ice.
  • Jam ice forms on rivers and streams and is pieces of ices that “jam” up into rough, thick ice cover. Moving jam ice is unstable. Thick frozen jam ice is difficult to travel upon.

More icy information:

Article adapted from Frontline Winter 2014 – Beating the Big Ice Challenge