An accident is an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury. The perception used to be that accidents were inevitable, random and unavoidable events that could not be predicted or controlled, but substantial progress has been made to recognize high risk factors that could lead to accidents. One hundred years ago, the National Safety Council started collecting safety data and information. Since then, the world has become liability conscience and safety is now a profession thanks to the success of preventive programs which will continue to improve as knowledge is collected and studied. All must become safety educated and enforce those rules to reduce the number of highrisk factors that lead to incidents.
High-risk factors can include operator error, equipment malfunction and the environment. Tank workers, water tanks and their environments can all be high-risk factors. Tank owners, operators, workers and those who live near water tanks need to realize the dangers and take necessary preventative measures to reduce incidents. Water tanks have collapsed and lives have been lost. Two men in Florida lost their lives when a 300,000- gallon water tank burst, causing the building they were in to collapse. Property was damaged when a 250,000-gallon water tower collapsed in Indiana, and heavy equipment was swept away when a 400,000 gallon fire protection tank fell to the ground in 2012. Last year, three people were injured when a water tank fell from a historic nine-story building in Chicago. A Virginia worker was hurt when a water tower at the facility collapsed and launched the worker into a creek bed. Just this year, more than 40 workers at a pork processing plant required treatment when a hot water tower collapsed and ruptured an ammonia container. A church, post office and two homes were seriously damaged when a 100,000- gallon water tower in KY collapsed.
Effort must be made to help prevent these types of incidents. The National Fire Protection Association, American Water Works Association and OSHA have devised guidelines to help tanks remain in safe operation. AWWA states, “Tanks shall be washed out and inspected at least once every three years, and where water supplies have sediment problems, annual washouts are recommended.” This is a good starting point, but it is only a minimal standard. Additional effort is needed from all parties involved to create the best prevention plan. Inspection reports should be reviewed and maintenance issues addressed promptly Emergency repairs such as improper ventilation, severe metal loss, leaks and other issues that could cause structural instability should be addressed immediately to prevent tank rupture or collapse like the six-million-gallon storage tank in Georgia that collapsed when the metal wall unraveled and cleared the hillside with water and debris.
High-risk professions do still exist and people are still sometimes injured or killed while performing work. Several years ago, a tank worker in Iowa was killed when a tower crane struck the partially assembled water tower he was working on. All parties involved must be safety conscientious, and great effort must be made to maintain that state. Tank workers must be trained, protected and equipped for emergencies. The appropriate size and number of manways should be installed on all tanks for easy access and to remove an injured worker if there is an emergency. Ladders, safety climbs and handrails must be safely secured to the tank for fall protection. Tanks no longer in use should be properly dismantled to completely remove the risks that surround it. For example, a water tower collapsed in 2012 while being prepared for demolition. Fortunately, the tank was empty and only a shed Elevated storage tank collapse. was destroyed.
In the past, safety was viewed as an individual’s own responsibility. To accept a tank or tower job, one naturally accepted that an accident would eventually lead to his death because he was given no safety training, little safety equipment and drug testing was not enforced. Little, if any, instructions were given before performing work, and the risk for incidents was very high. Thanks to the media, education and technological advances, these attitudes have changed.
Today most injuries and incidents are considered preventable and companies are developing effective policies and programs to save lives. Most locations now require a Job Safety Analysis (JSA) to be completed before work can begin. Lifting and rigging plans must be certified and stamped by an engineer. Fall protection, fire watch and confined space entry must be performed by separate people. A confined space monitoring instrument detects the levels of oxygen, carbon monoxide and hydrogen-sulfide levels. Some jobs even require employee blood testing before and after to check for lead levels.
Additionally, drug testing, background checks and crane certifications must be provided. Sometimes all equipment must be inspected before allowed on site. These extra preventative measures do require many more hours of research, paperwork and costs but they also creates a new dimension of knowledge in a specialized field to help reduce the number of serious accidents.
Tank owners can help promote and enforce new safety standards by only hiring trained professionals. Tank companies with safety departments, programs and training facilities are more knowledgeable and better equipped to perform the necessary work safely. Hours of industry and regulatory specific training, CPR and first aid instructions should be conducted yearly and tank crews inspected monthly for continued compliance. Drug free certified companies that strive to meet safety and health achievements are more likely to follow not only their safety standards, but also the federal, state and site specific requirements of every customer for whom they work.