Having helped various Fortune 500 companies for over 20 years, in an industry focused on the safety of personnel with a focus on truck/ railcar loading skid safety and helping prevent falls off the top of them, an interesting trend has developed with focus now being on the actual pumping and compressor systems used to load and unload those same exact trucks and rail cars. Falls from heights are a major area of concern and liability for most all of the companies in the Fortune 500 who manufacture chemicals, refine oil & gas, produce food and beverage products or pharmaceuticals to name a few. What all of these companies have in common is they either receive and or ship out liquids and compressed gas products in tank trucks and rail cars. A lot of time, energy and money are spent in making sure the operators, who have to work on top of these vehicles at heights from ten feet to over thirteen feet in some cases, can do their job safely and in the event of a trip or fall while on top of these trucks or rail cars, are using some sort of passive or active fall protection system, preventing them from falling to the ground. These companies turn to places like OSHA and S&S Technical for guidelines and direction on how to address specific regulations regarding working from heights.
Falls from heights are the center of most discussions when talking about loading and unloading trucks and rails cars. Operator safety, as related to the actual pumping and compressor skids and the process used to load or unload those same trucks and rail cars is rarely discussed and leaves a gap for the end user to fill in. So where does a company start? A job hazard analysis taken up by a team of stakeholders that incudes Operations, Engineering EH&S, and Logistics can be utilized to identify hazards and mitigate them. Shouldn’t operator safety around skids be incorporated into the discussion and help remove the gap and ensure the operation is safe as possible?
Let’s look at one example that would be typical for most loading or unloading applications where a skid system is being used and involves ergonomic concerns. There are numerous safety checks and procedures one must go through prior to loading or unloading a truck or car, so the assumption here is that will have taken place. The focus here is what task does the operator have to perform that may put him/her at risk of an injury aside from falls from height. One of the first things that have to be done in order to load or unload is connect the skid system to the truck or car. This is done with hoses or loading arms. By far there are more operations using hoses than loading arms so we will focus on hoses. So what concerns are there for an operator making a connection to a car or truck? Heavy lifting and awkward working positions which are addressed by OSHA are but one. Hoses can be heavy when considering they have valves, couplers, and adapters on the end and sometimes contain product. Lifting hoses can cause back sprains, muscle pulls, wrist injuries, elbow injuries and spinal injuries. In 2011 one of the leading causes of injury in the workplace, over 33%, was in part the result of neck, upper extremity and lower back injuries. In addition to the hoses themselves being heavy, operators are forced to connect and disconnect the hoses while working in awkward positions. As an example, and operator may have to connect a hose and coupler to a bottom rail car connection and have to crawl underneath the rail car, break the threaded rail car valve adapter sometimes with a heavy wrench, lift and connect a thread on kamlock or dry break adapter to the car valve and then lift into place the hose and coupler connecting it to the rail car, all while on his side or back. This can cause bending and lifting strain on the back, increasing the stress on the lower spine and fatiguing of muscles.
Slips, trips and falls are another example. It may seem not so important, but something as simple as a hose lying on the ground can lead to a slip, trip or fall leading to a back injury or even death. This can expose a company to a considerable financial burden with law suits, workman’s compensation and medical cost. Again here, someone needs to think about the entire process and consider where and how hoses should be stored. OSHA provides direction on prevention and regulation of slips, trip and falls.
Taking it beyond ergonomics, slips and trips there are a host of other safety concerns around the actual loading and unloading of trucks and rail cars. Examples are static discharge in hazardous areas where a fire or explosion could occur, incidents like was just reported in Ohio where a condensate pumping skid caused an explosion, environmental concerns should a leak occur in the pumping systems, and everyday drips and spills with the numerous connects and disconnects that take place connecting hoses to trucks and railcars. All of these things can be addressed and considered when you step back and look at the entire puzzle.
Its best to consult with a company who can help a client look at their total process and identify potential job hazards and make recommendations to mitigate them. For S&S Technical, a company who designs and manufactures packaged skid systems, it’s not the end of our job to just help with the pumping and compression aspects of a project. Our job also includes helping make clients aware of potential hazards and help bring total solutions to the table to make their entire operation safer.
S&S Technical, Inc
1900 Grassland Parkway
Alpharetta, Ga 30004