A critical part of the project management process, especially when working with potential environmental hazards or hazardous chemicals, is assessing the risks posed by the project and identifying mitigation activities to prevent them from occurring or minimizing their impact should they occur.
A major risk that should be on the risk register and actively addressed by every organization that has a petroleum tank or storage facility is the risk of a worker performing maintenance and becoming trapped in the confined space.
Confined Space Risk
It is estimated that 100 lives are lost each year when working in confined spaces, and up to 60% of these are people trying to rescue someone who has become trapped. It is clear that the risk of death when working in a confined space is very high and that serious thought and planning needs to be in place before any worker is allowed to enter a confined space, especially one that is known to be contaminated with potentially harmful chemicals or substances.
Petroleum Storage Hazard Assessment
In order to ensure that your storage facility is in good condition and free from damage or potential contamination, routine maintenance must be carried out. However, to prevent or reduce the likelihood of injury or death occurring, it is essential that a hazard assessment is conducted.
This must include an external visual overview of the facility prior to every planned entrance. In addition to looking for evidence of damage, the assessment must include confirming safe access and egress routes and ensuring that these planned routes are not obstructed in any way.
Whoever is nominated to carry out the maintenance must be fully trained to operate in confined spaces and be certified safe to work with the hazards they are likely to encounter during the maintenance. They must have radio contact with a person on the outside of the facility and continuously monitor the atmosphere with properly maintained and calibrated test equipment to ensure that any gasses present will not be harmful to their health and that there is a sufficient supply of oxygen.
It is vital that an evacuation plan and a rescue plan are both in place prior to anybody entering the facility. All personnel involved in the maintenance process must be fully briefed and confident about their role, both in the undertaking of the maintenance and in the safe evacuation process.
All staff must be reminded prior to commencing any maintenance that retreating from the confined space is always the best option if they have any concerns for their safety or the safety of others.
Every time that maintenance is conducted on a storage tank, it must be recorded. It is important that any issues that are experienced prior to or during the maintenance process are logged so that they can be investigated or escalated to a specialist team should further actions be required.
Maintaining an accurate record of maintenance is not only required by law but also allows potential issues to be pre-empted, potentially saving lives. When working with chemicals that are potentially harmful to health, there is no excuse for failing to address issues at the earliest opportunity.