OSHA Targets Tank Car Cleaning And Confined Space Dangers

Vinson & Elkins LLP

Vinson & Elkins LLP

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) Region VI — which includes Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas — has established a new Regional Emphasis Program targeting worker exposure to hazards associated with the cleaning of transportation tanks. According to OSHA, over the last five years, it has investigated the deaths of 36 workers in the transportation and tank cleaning industry in the Dallas region — and over the last year alone, 4 lives were lost. Both the workers who had entered these tanks to clean them, and their would-be rescuers, are among that number.

Asphyxiation is a critical hazard associated with tank cleaning activities. When a worker enters a tank between uses in order to clean it, they risk exposure to toxic vapors from chemicals, decaying crops, or whatever other substance was in the tank. Asphyxiation is, however, not the only hazard. Apart from engulfing workers with fumes, these substances can cause explosions or fires.

Due to these hazards, a tank may qualify as a “permit-required” confined space under OSHA regulations, depending on the chemical makeup of the substances being transported, cleaning method, tank configuration, and other factors. Perhaps obviously, workers must have a permit in order to enter a permit-required confined space. They must also be trained on its potential hazards. OSHA regulations set forth myriad requirements for work in these confined spaces, including regarding the identification of hazards, procedures for entering and exiting the spaces, monitoring for hazards, and the use of protective equipment.

Regardless of the Regional Emphasis Program, all employers should evaluate whether they have any confined spaces or permit-controlled confined spaces and, if they do, make sure that they have a confined space entry program that complies with OSHA regulations. If your company contracts with an outside entity in order to obtain tank cleaning services, it is crucial to ensure that those companies do the same and comply with OSHA requirements related to entry into permit-required confined spaces.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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