Whose Talking Pump Skid Safety?
Having spent 20 plus years in an industry focused on the safety of personnel working on top of trucks and rail cars and helping prevent falls off the top of them, I have noticed an interesting thing with my 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 all 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 they trip or fall while on top of these trucks or rail cars, are surrounded with some sort of railing preventing them from falling to the ground. These companies turn to places like OSHA and other liked minded companies for guidelines to provide direction on how to address specific regulations regarding working from elevated 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 those same trucks and rail cars is rarely discussed or seen as an area for concern. The interesting thing I have noticed is most companies who are involved in providing pumping and compressor skids don’t concern themselves with operator safety as related to the complete process. My question is why not when this leaves a gap for the end user to fill in. Here again OSHA points us to the job hazard analysis used to identify hazards and eliminate or prevent 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. So I am taken back to my original observation and think it’s interesting these examples are not being talked about. It may be one of those things where it’s assumed someone else is addressing the potential hazards.
For myself, I think it’s best to help a client look at their total process and identify potential job hazards and use my experience to help clients reduce or eliminate them. So in my role now, working with companies helping move crude oil, NGL’s, condensate and propane, I see a change is needed in the industry. As a company who designs and manufactures packaged skid systems, that’s not the end of our job. Our job also includes helping make clients aware of potential hazards and help bring total solutions to the table to make their operation safer.
If you have any thoughts or observations please share. I would love to have some dialog and see what makes sense.