Deaths prompt closer scrutiny of tank cleaning

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The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has launched a program that places greater emphasis on the safe cleaning of transport tanks following injuries and fatalities in recent years. The area of ​​emphasis includes Oklahoma. (Photo by Erik McLean via Unsplash)

In August 2020, two workers entered a natural gas tanker on a railcar in Hugo and were victims of fumes.

Their deaths, among those of 36 workers in the transport and tank cleaning industry reported in the extended region since 2016, have been investigated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of US Department of Labor.

To reduce the risks faced by tank cleaning workers, OSHA has implemented a Local Accent Program, or LEP, to educate employers in Region 6 (Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma) and Chicago-based Region 5.

Transport tanks – on trucks, trailers or railcars – should be cleaned and inspected before being filled for transport. Workers cleaning tanks between uses may be exposed to toxic fumes from chemicals, rotting crops, wastes and other substances, as well as asphyxiation, fires and explosions.

“Too often, employers allow workers to enter tanks without testing atmospheric conditions, without completing permits for entry into confined spaces, or without providing adequate respiratory protection,” OSHA regional administrator said. , Eric Harbin, in Dallas. “Companies with active safety and health programs that train workers to identify unsafe conditions and use required protective measures can prevent serious and fatal injuries. “

Brian Bolinger, vice president of environmental health and safety at Quala, said the company has long recognized the importance of safety when it comes to entering confined spaces.

“We are not too stressed by this (LEP). We have the procedures, the programs and the culture in place, ”Bolinger said. “We are the industry leader. We have the most experience and the most resources.

Quala operates tank cleaning services at more than 80 locations across North America, including an operation in northeast Oklahoma City that it acquired in May from Kraft Tank Corp.

LEP covers a large portion of the company’s footprint, as 40% of the sites are in Texas and Louisiana, Bolinger said.

“We can’t always clean a tank without an inlet. We would prefer not to come in, but sometimes it’s mandatory, ”he said.

For example, when a hardened product is at the bottom of the tank and cannot be removed without scraping and shoveling.

The tanks transport everything from milk to crude oil.

Quala staff chemists determine what is needed to properly clean each tank. Hot water and a powerful spinning mechanism can do the trick. Other times, chemical agents are needed, Bolinger said.

The majority of Quala’s facilities perform medium-risk cleanup, he said. When it comes to high risk situations, which require a higher level of personal protective equipment, customers should ship the tank to one of the high risk cleaning sites.

LEPs operate on a carrot and stick approach, said Michael Bowling, labor attorney at Crowe & Dunlevy.

The “Carrot” is OSHA’s offering of special awareness and education opportunities through its local and regional offices. The “stick” is a series of scheduled inspections, during which officers randomly select employers from the sector covered for surprise inspections.

When inspectors are on site, they look for other issues as well, Bowling said.

The special focus program runs until summer 2024 but could be extended depending on what inspectors find.

“The focus is on worker safety, the cleaning equipment and the process used,” Bowling said.

Businesses that violate safety standards can receive anything from a warning for a small problem to criminal charges for repeated or reckless failures, he said.


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