By Jay Jaros MBA, CSP, PG Senior Safety Consultant, Gallagher Bassett
When properly managed, hazardous materials can have great benefit. They are fertilizers, fuels, lubricants, and medicines. They provide us with the means to live in a modern day society. However, when not controlled they can have deadly consequences and workers dealing with them need proper training.
On April 25, 2019 at 4:45 AM in Beach Park, Illinois (a suburb halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee) a farm tractor was pulling a pair of two-ton tanks of anhydrous ammonia when one of the tanks started to leak (preliminary reports indicate it may have been from a valve that was not closed all the way), creating a dangerous plume. This resulted in 85 people being treated at local hospitals. 41 people were taken by ambulance and seven were in critical condition. First responders who first arrived found three people laying on the roadway. A few of those taken to the hospitals were first responders who thought they were responding to a traffic accident and did not have the proper PPE.
Residents within a mile were told to remain inside their homes, shut windows and turn off their HVACs.
Anyone who has driven past farms has likely seen these tanks being pulled through fields or down roadways. However, I bet that most of us never realized the danger they truly pose.
While this event was significant, under slightly different circumstances it easily could have been much worse. Imagine if a school bus filled with young children passed through the plume.
Over our careers, many of us will or already have trained workers on managing hazardous materials. We likely go through with them the specific EPA, OSHA, and DOT requirements and possibly the site specific requirements. We discuss making sure labels are properly placed and that the materials are secure. However, what we may sometimes miss is when workers work with such materials on a daily basis they may become complacent around them. They may no longer see the immediate danger and minor negative events start to occur, which may be brushed aside. They may setup a contractor trailer near an ISOM isomerization process unit, have nearby ignition sources, and not make “minor” repairs (as in the BP Texas City disaster), or in the above case, likely forgetting to close a valve can ultimately have dire consequences.
Having the proper knowledge, training, and situational awareness when working with hazardous materials is essential to the safety of the employee and those around them.
Every job site should know the chemicals they have on site and the quantities. Review SDS’s (which are required to be made available to everyone on site) and product labels. Identify activities that may result in exposure to chemicals.
Companies that manage hazardous materials in certain volumes need to have Emergency Action Plans (EAPs) in the event of a negative event. The plan should dictate how personnel will be notified of a release and the emergency procedures that will be enacted. It needs to list the first responders to contact. Additionally, the local response agencies (fire department, police) should be invited onto jobsites so they are aware of the hazards ahead of time if there were to be an event.
There is obviously much more that is required of companies and employees that manage hazardous waste and specific trainings are required based on the hazards, processes, emergency responses, and transportation requirements.
Regulatory standards that should be reviewed include:
- EPA – 40 CFR parts 260 through 273
- OSHA – 29 CFR 1910.120
- OSHA – 29 CFR 1926.65
- DOT – 49 CFR Parts 100-185
Aerial photo of the anhydrous ammonia leak.
Note the low lying vapor cloud of ammonia engulfing the area.
Firefighters spraying water onto ammonia tanks.
The information contained in this report was obtained from sources which to the best of the writer’s knowledge are authentic and reliable. Gallagher Bassett Services, Inc. makes no guarantee of results, and assumes no liability in connection with either the information herein contained, or the safety suggestions herein made. Moreover, it cannot be assumed that every acceptable safety procedure is contained herein or that abnormal or unusual circumstances may not warrant or require further or additional procedures.