Storage tanks are commonly used to store and transport chemicals, corrosives, crude oil, diesel, and other potentially hazardous materials. And, like any other tank designed to store and transport materials or waste, it must be cleaned on a regular basis to ensure the health of both the tank and the surrounding environment.
The nature of storage tank cleaning entails working in confined spaces with contaminants that remain inside the tank, which can increase the risk of fire, explosion, chemical exposure, and other hazards.
In this post, we’ll dig into why it’s important to clean your tanks and how workers can stay safe while doing so. Here’s a closer look at what you need to know about tank cleaning safety procedures. But first, an overview of tanks and what they’re used for:
What are Tanks Used for?
To put it simply, storage tanks are used to store and transport hazardous waste. With capacities ranging from 2,000 to 30,000 gallons, it’s not uncommon to see these tanks being pulled by trucks on highways across the United States as they travel to their destination.
When storage tanks are used on a regular basis to store and transport waste, they must be cleaned on a regular basis to ensure they remain in good enough condition to safely transport hazardous materials and chemicals.
Why do Tanks Need to be Cleaned?
Industrial tank cleaning should be done on a regular basis to prevent wear and tear on the tank. Debris and tank sludge, like any other enclosed space, have the potential to accumulate on tank bottoms over time. This results in corrosion and the possibility of leakage. It can also cause oxidation, which reduces the tank’s overall storage capacity. The bottom line is that an unclean tank can endanger not only the environment but also your employees.
When do Tanks Need to be Cleaned?
Because of the various situations that may necessitate tank cleaning, this is a difficult question to answer. Tanks, for example, should always be cleaned prior to any material changeovers to ensure that any previous materials do not contaminate any new materials being stored. Another thing to consider is that if a tank previously carried a highly reactive or corrosive material, it should be cleaned before adding new materials to avoid a possible reaction between the different substances (explosion, toxic gas release, fire, etc.).
Plant managers frequently perform tank cleanings during planned shutdowns or schedule routine maintenance repair periods to maintain productivity and efficiency. The length of time it takes to thoroughly and safely clean a tank is determined by its size and the material it was holding.
How Storage Tanks are Typically Cleaned
Pressure washers are commonly used to clean tanks. The pressurized water aids in the removal of contaminant buildup from the tank walls in order to keep the tank as clean as possible; however, this can also release contaminants into the air.
Safety Hazards and Tank Cleaning
Why is cleaning storage tanks so dangerous? Aside from their role in containing hazardous waste and materials, these cleaning projects are hazardous for a number of other reasons.
For starters, storage tanks typically have only one point of entry – and workers must enter the tank itself to properly clean it. This also results in poor ventilation or a lack of oxygen—without proper ventilation or an oxygen supply, gases in confined spaces are not “diluted” by oxygen or released from the tank, resulting in higher concentrations of these noxious gases within the tank.
With low oxygen levels and minimal airflow, workers must wear the proper PPE. Because of the limited openings and the fact that storage tanks are not designed for human occupancy, tanks are classified as a “confined space.”
Then there’s the hazardous waste and other materials that these tanks are designed to store and transport, which can produce toxic vapors and release gases that can cause explosions, radiation exposure, and other problems.
The bottom line is that confined space tank cleaning operations should only be attempted by trained professionals. Professionals must be properly certified and have a permit for confined space work in order to lock out and tag out the tanks each day.
Additionally, workers must be aware of how to properly dispose of any waste generated by tank cleaning in order to avoid harming the environment and comply with any hazardous waste disposal regulations.
Minimize Tank Cleaning Hazards with the Right PPE
Ensuring workers are properly trained and certified to perform tank cleaning is one thing.
Hardhat: This keeps workers safe from any overhead hazards.
Eye protection: Wear both eye protection and side shields to properly protect their eyes from any potential hazards.
Gloves: Heavy-duty leather gloves are recommended, as workers may encounter objects or debris featuring sharp edges. Workers may also come into contact with chemicals.
Boots: Any footwear should be approved to ensure proper protection.
Respiratory protection: A few factors that make tanks so hazardous to clean are their confined space nature and the risk of contaminants in higher concentrations. These contaminants should not be inhaled, and respiratory protection is critical.
Depending on the contaminants inside, N, R, or P95 filters should be inserted into respirators. It’s also important that workers undergo respirator fit testing to ensure its proper functionality.
Harness and retrieval lines: When cleaning certain tanks, workers must be harnessed with retrieval lines attached to them to ensure that they’re properly accounted for and can make a swift exit if something goes wrong.
Full-body suits: If there’s a risk of contaminant exposure to the skin, full-body suits should be considered. These disposable coveralls cover the skin and the entire worker’s body, preventing skin contact with any potential contaminants such as chemicals or biohazards.
It is critical to remember that the PPE mentioned above includes basic safety equipment before entering a fuel tank or any storage tank. Additional PPE or procedures may be required for cleaning and desludging crude oil tanks, petroleum tanks, diesel tanks, and so on, depending on the material that the storage tank was holding. Tanks, for example, lack overhead lighting, making it difficult to see and clean thoroughly. It is also possible that temporary lighting or headlights will be required.
Movement may be restricted, and communication within the tank may be difficult if everyone is wearing a respirator. As a result, additional PPE and safety precautions, such as checking hazardous gas concentration levels before entering the tank, may be necessary.
Safety Tips for Industrial Tank Cleaning
PPE is important for keeping workers safe while tank cleaning, but there are various other best practices to follow as well:
Safety first: Before any tank cleaning can begin, a plan should be developed and reviewed by all personnel involved. This plan should include not only tank cleaning procedures, but also an assessment of any potential risks.
For instance, it should account for any valves that need to be turned off. This plan should also include all and any necessary permits required to carry out tank cleaning.
Prepare for the worst: It is preferable to plan for the worst-case scenario rather than being caught off guard and unprepared. Workers should know where to go to retrieve emergency medical kits, and a confined space rescue team should be on standby.
Ensure only trained professionals are performing tank cleaning: Tank cleaning services should only be performed by trained professionals. These professionals must be properly certified and understand how to work in confined spaces, use cleaning tools/machinery, properly don PPE and/or other safety equipment, and properly dispose of waste after cleaning.
As you can see, there’s considerable risk involved in tank cleaning – even for a trained professional. That’s why it’s crucial to eliminate as much risk as possible. Outfitting your professionals with the right PPE can help prevent both short- and long-term illnesses, or worse.
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