US Department of Labor initiative seeks to protect Midwest workers in tank cleaning industry from atmospheric, confined space hazards
CHICAGO ‒ An Ohio worker tasked with cleaning a chemical tanker trailer collapsed upon entering the tank. Answering the employee’s call for help, a nearby truck driver entered the tank. Both workers succumbed to fatal toxic fumes.
In Illinois, a worker opened the lid of a tanker trailer containing toluene and was found a short time later lying across the open dome and unresponsive. Rushed to a nearby hospital, he survived after being treated for respiratory failure and cardiac arrest.
The double fatality and serious injury are among the 23 worker deaths and 97 incidents that the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Chicago region has investigated in the transportation and tank cleaning industries since 2016. While investigating these tragedies, the most common violations OSHA found included failure to prevent the inhalation of harmful substances and to follow procedures for permit-required confined space requirements.
Reducing the risks tank cleaning workers face has led the Chicago regional office to establish a Regional Emphasis Program. The program will focus on employers in industries typically engaged in tank cleaning activities, including trucking, rail and road transportation, remediation services, material recovery and waste management services.
“OSHA often finds employers who use transportation tanks fail to test atmospheric conditions inside the tankers, complete confined space entry permits and use adequate respiratory protection before allowing cleaning workers to enter,” said OSHA’s Acting Regional Administrator William Donovan in Chicago. “These companies can prevent injury, illness or worse by implementing safety and health programs and training workers to identify hazardous conditions and use required protective measures to protect workers from harm.”
The initial phase of this Regional Emphasis Program will include informational mailings to employers, professional associations, local safety councils, apprenticeship programs, local hospitals and occupational health clinics, as well as presentations by OSHA to industry organizations and stakeholders. Following its three-month outreach, the program empowers OSHA to schedule and inspect targeted industries in Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin and those under federal jurisdiction in Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota.
Transportation tanks on trucks or railcars must be cleaned and inspected before refilling with the same or different commodity for transport. Workers who clean these tanks between uses face many serious and potentially deadly hazards caused by toxic fumes from chemicals, decaying crops, waste and other substances that can expose workers to suffocation, fires and explosions.
OSHA encourages industry employers to take steps to identify, reduce and eliminate hazards related to confined spaces and implement noise safety strategies during the Regional Emphasis Program’s initial phase. The agency urges employers to use its free consultation services for advice on complying with OSHA standards.
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