Preventable deaths are always frustrating, and just as tragic, if not more so, than any other death.
When trying to drive home a point about safety, whether it’s around cargo tankers, general traffic, heavy equipment or any other situation, being able to explain the point through case studies can be an effective tool in furthering understanding of the main safety concern and illuminating some possible ways to make a preventable accident truly preventable.
As was mentioned in my last post, which was the first of this current series, there are at least 10 different reasons that a worker or driver would be on top of a cargo tanker, but being up at that height can be a dangerous proposition, as falls from a higher level are always one of the top causes of serious injury or death at a worksite.
While such falls can come in many different worksite environments, one of the most common is at construction sites. Cargo tankers, however, have their share of fall incidents, but the construction number so ovewhelms that tankers can be overlooked as safety hazards. Albert Weaver III and Cynthia Sink did not let that remain overlooked any longer when they combined to write an article in Professional Safety magazine about cargo tanker safety.
Falls are more common with tankers that perhaps many might think, as over a two-year span, there were neary 7,500 non-fatal fall incidents involving tanker trucks (or about 10 per day), and there were 44 deaths in other incidents durig that time. The numbers are at east high enough that it drew Weaver and Sink to write severa pages about tanker safety – perhaps because there are tools and methods available that can help workers be mroe safe and have mitigated risks when aroudn cargo tankers. In this part of the article, Weaver and Wink introduce three case studies of fall incidents involving cargo tankers, just to make the point vivid.
Case Study #1
This first case study in Weaver and Sink’s article has to do with the driver of a tanker getting killed from a fall while at a turkey-processing plant. The driver climbed on top of the truck while it was loading blood and discarded turkey parts, where he needed to be on top of the truck to check the fil level of the blood tank, and to hold the blood pipe and peer down into the tank as it was filling.
Once the filling was complete, the driver asked a plant worker to shut off the flow. The driver then bent over as if he was sick, then fell off the truck, hitting his head on the concrete floor 10 feet below. He died two days later, and the autopsy revealed that yes, he died from blunt-force trauma to the head, but it also showed that “aspiration pneumonia” was a factor in the fall. In other words, the driver inhaled too much hydrogen sulfide – which is the gas that is often produced with the breakdown of animal waste. The gas contributed to him feeling sick, getting disoriented and falling from the tanker.
Case Study #2
More animals are involved in this case study. Here, a worker from a wastewater-management firm was loading wate from a hog-processing plant. The waste included feces, urine, blood, hair, fat, grease and some decayed pig parts.
Remember the hydrogen sulfide.
This worker was on top of the tank, but had a fall-prevention system in place while he watched the tank fill up. As the air was cool outside but the sludge was warm, a fog began to build, which limited visibility. A little while later, some plant workers noticed the worker slumped over, his head inside the hatch to the tanker and the sludge still running, emptying over his head.
Turns out, he had loosened the harness to check the fill level of the tank and he wound up dying from excessive inhalation of the hydrogen sulfide from the waste.
In both of these case studies, the tankers did not have fill gauges.
Case Study #3
This case study takes us to a transfer station, where a fuel-oil tank truck driver was loading oil into his truck. The driver could park alongside a loading rack and climb up to a 48-inch platform. As the downspout was put in place upon opening the hatch, the driver began watching the filling process. As the oil began to fill, the driver climbed to the top of the tank to look down into the opening to gauge the fill level.
After a little while, workers noticed the truck still parked at the platform. Upon a search, the driver was found bloodied and bruised in the cab of the truck, with evidence on the ground that he had fallen off the truck. The platform was designed to help drivers monitor the filling process, but the driver was too short to look down into the tank, so he climbed on top of the truck to view and he apparently slipped and fell, causing several broken bones and a broken back.
If there is one thing that all of these case studies have in common, it’s that every worker got hurt or killed because they had to climb onto the top of the truck to monitor the filling of the tankers and assess the fill level. The rest of the article, which we will cover in future posts, will discuss the value of fill-level gauges being installed on these tankers, their relative cost-efficiency, and have discussion about other safety measures designed to keep these workers from having to risk their lives just to ensure a tanker doesn’t get too full.
We have the technology. There has to be a better way.