Be shop-safe or die
Feb 1, 2002 12:00 PM, Editorial By Charles E Wilson
GRANTED, the headline may seem a bit melodramatic. However, cargo tank repair is a deadly serious business that offers little room for error.
By some federal government estimates, a minimum of 10 people die in tank shop accidents every year. Workers face a variety of life-threatening hazards that include confined-space entry; explosive, flammable, or poisonous atmospheres; high pressures in tanks; and falls.
Reckless behavior certainly is not the norm in this industry, and a majority of tank repair shops take safety very seriously. Safety training is reinforced regularly, and many companies have safety programs that include a variety of worker incentives.
Complacency may be the greatest enemy of shop safety, and this point was brought home repeatedly during the 2001 Cargo Tank Maintenance Seminar October 29-31 in Chicago, Illinois. Coverage of the meeting starts on page 30 of this issue of Modern Bulk Transporter.
Speakers discussed accidents involving shop foremen with decades of experience, as well as relatively inexperienced workers. The only consistent element from one incident to another was that someone took a shortcut that ignored or skirted safety procedures.
Stories of near misses were as alarming as the accounts of disasters. Too many people in this business have stories of near misses. Too many workers have been within a heartbeat of serious injury or death.
Mike Hougom, Convenience Transportation, recounted a near miss in which a shop worker started to weld on a petroleum tank after returning from a break. The supervisor stopped him to find out if the tank atmosphere had been metered.
Following shop procedures, the tank had been metered before being brought into the shop. However, the worker had not remetered it after the break. Just those few minutes of break were enough for vapors to collect in the tank at a potentially explosive level. The supervisor's query prevented what could have been a deadly disaster.
The incident prompted Convenience Transportation, a petroleum marketer with its own fleet and maintenance facilities, to strengthen its shop safety program. Supervisors were assigned more safety responsibility, and tank metering got more attention.
The Convenience Transportation experience shows that tank repair shop operators must continually fight against the threat of safety complacency. Shop managers must constantly review safety programs to detect and fix weaknesses.
A consensus emerging from the discussion was that tank repair shops need to concentrate on several key areas of safety. This is not a complete list of safety focal points by any means. It's just a start.
Any tank must be thoroughly cleaned before repair work commences. Petroleum tanks need particularly close attention. Speakers pointed out that explosive or flammable vapors collect in many places in petroleum tanks.
Tank atmosphere must be metered before a vehicle is brought into the shop and before any worker enters it for the first time during a repair project. It should be remetered at regular intervals as part of an overall metering policy. There is general agreement that a tank should be remetered after any break in the repair process.
On chemical and foodgrade tanks, it's vital to be on the alert for nitrogen, which is being used more and more by shippers. This is one of the most deadly gases in use today because it can overcome workers so quickly and with no warning.
Confined-space programs need to be kept up to date, and workers must be familiar with all aspects of these policies. Training should include confined-space updates throughout the year.
Safety procedures need to account for pressure risks. Tanks that have been buttoned up can be under pressure, and workers can be killed or seriously injured if they open a domelid without first bleeding off the pressure. Hoses used to distribute air and welding gases throughout the shop also pose pressure risks and must be covered by the safety program.
Most shops have policies to protect against falls, but this is an area that seems likely to receive greater government scrutiny in the future. The best way to hold off government regulations is for industry to be proactive.
Avoiding government regulations can't be the sole motivation for improving tank shop safety. It all comes down to protecting a company's workers and the public in general. Even one death is too many.
© 2013 Penton Media Inc.