Tips for Safer, Cleaner Fluid Transfer Areas

Small leaks are a problem, too. Being prepared will keep spills to a minumum.

Fluids are essential to most manufacturing processes. They arrive in containers, drums, totes, bulk shipments, and pipelines. When all is going well, they seem to be the lifeblood of the facility. When they leak or spill, however, the mess they create can range anywhere from being a nuisance to being a health and environmental liability.

Every time fluids are transferred, the potential for leaks and spills increases—and it sometimes only takes a few drops to create a hazard. In addition, every drop that hits the floor typically means money wasted because the fluid is no longer useful. Properly managing fluids can help save money, create a safer workplace, and minimize environmental hazards.

Identifying Problem Areas
Good fluid management begins with identifying areas where fluids are most likely to present an issue. A new, double-walled bulk storage tank stored inside a secure building typically isn’t prone to catastrophic fluid loss, but the fittings, hoses, and/or pipelines leading to and from the tank may be likely candidates for leaks and drips.

Document the types of fluids that are used at the facility, the quantities stored and used at the site, and how they arrive. Purchasing and receiving dock records or annual environmental reports are often a good source of information on what types of fluids are present, but these probably won’t uncover every source of leaks and drips. Walking through the facility will provide a more complete picture.

First, consider the areas where fluids are received. This could include loading docks and bulk fluid transfer areas. Smaller amounts of fluids, such as those used in laboratories or non-production areas, also may be brought in by employees and may not be tallied on purchasing or receiving documents.

Receiving areas can become spill zones when containers arrive damaged. Busy loading docks that become cluttered with products are also at an increased likelihood for spills when containers are grazed by forklifts or other moving equipment. Bulk transfer nearly always results in at least a few drops of liquid being spilled when hose fittings are connected and disconnected.

Next, consider areas where fluids are dispensed. Containers with pumps or faucets attached are typically easy to spot. Dispensing nozzles on hoses and pipes are other considerations. An often overlooked area is the custodial closet: Not only are cleaning chemicals stored and dispensed in this area, but floor sinks can also be a source of leaks and drips.

Like bulk transfer systems, pumps and faucets are notorious for drips. Even when these items are functioning properly, the likelihood of overfills is still abundant—especially when workers are trying to dispense small amounts of product from a larger container.

Funnels, pumps, and other transferring equipment are often found in waste collection areas, the third major area of consideration. In these areas, fluids may be collected in bulk, in drums, or in smaller containers. Be sure not to overlook satellite accumulation areas.

Because fluids headed for this area have been deemed “wastes,” it is easy for some people to overlook good fluid management practices in these areas—because if it misses the container, it’s not like “good” product has been wasted.

Stocking Tools and Materials
After problem areas have been identified, it’s easier to determine which tools and products will be needed. Keeping the right items stocked and readily available will help make these areas cleaner and safer.

Loading docks and bulk transfer areas are likely to benefit from a spill response kit stocked with absorbent socks and mats; patch and repair items; and basic personal protective equipment, such as gloves, goggles, and respirators (if necessary). Many spill kits are portable and can be tucked into a corner at the loading dock so they’re always ready for fast response.

When a container arrives damaged or is grazed by a forklift, having quick access to these items means a faster response and less downtime. Spills also can be contained more rapidly, which means less overall area that will need to be cleaned up.

Some spill kit containers are even designed to be stored outside, making the contents readily available for use during bulk transfers. Portable containment pools are another option to consider when spill potentials are larger or when the transfer takes place in an environmentally sensitive area.

Although damaged containers are not a common problem in fluid dispensing areas, leaks and spills are far more common there than at loading docks. Leaks often occur when workers try to pump liquids from a large hose into a small container or when faucets are difficult to open and close. Spills often happen when cans used to collect drips are accidentally kicked or open buckets get tipped. Left unattended, these leaks and spills create slippery floors, which are a safety hazard. If the spilled liquids are hazardous and reach unprotected floor drains, they are an environmental hazard, as well.

To help remedy these problems, pumps can be fitted with smaller hoses to help control flow rates. Metering devices are another option to help control the volume dispensed from pumps. For horizontal dispensing stations, self-closing faucets can help minimize overfills and drips.

To keep dispensing areas neat and clean, stock absorbent mats or wipers near dispensing stations so workers can attend to leaks and drips immediately. It’s helpful to keep a waste collection can in the area as well so workers will have a place to put the spent absorbents after cleanup. This will help keep the spent absorbents off the floor, further minimizing slip and trip hazards.

Waste collection areas are governed by a number of regulations that are designed to minimize the potential for environmental harm. For example, wastes need to be stored in a containment area or on a containment pallet (40 CFR 264.175) so that if the container leaks, the wastes are contained. Another requirement is for containers to be kept closed unless wastes are being added to or removed from the container (40 CFR 264.173.)

Keeping the proper tools and drum handling equipment readily available in these areas helps workers perform waste collection duties efficiently. Stocking drum bung wrenches, extra bung plugs, lids, bolt rings, and tools in the area helps ensure that containers are kept properly closed. Specialized funnels that meet closed-container regulations are also available for both open and closed-head containers to make waste transfer easier.

Labeling and Training
As areas are being stocked with items to help keep the areas cleaner and safer, clearly label shelves, drawers, peg boards, or floors where the items will be stored so that everyone knows what belongs in the area and, if applicable, where it should be returned after use. Labeling helps everyone know that products are stocked and ready for use or that something is missing and needs to be replaced.

With any new equipment or tool that is introduced to an area, be sure that workers are properly trained to use the item correctly. For example, if new pumps are installed, explain how they help to minimize leaks and drips, how to calibrate them (if necessary), and what to do with the hose after dispensing to avoid slip and trip hazards.

Discuss how to use absorbent products and what to do with them after use. Provide information about whom to contact when absorbent collection containers are full or when products are out of stock. Review what to do if there is a large spill: Should they contact someone? Pull an alarm? Posting spill information and contact names or phone extensions in the fluid transfer areas serves as a good reminder.

For workers involved with waste collection, remind them of the importance of properly segregating wastes so they can be recycled or disposed of properly. Make sure they know how to properly close containers and use drum wrenches, lifting equipment, and other devices to help ensure their safety and help minimize the potential for leaks and spills.

Having cleaner, safer fluid transfer areas takes some time and effort. Identifying the problem areas and making the proper tools readily accessible in those areas will help make those efforts worthwhile.

This article originally appeared in the July 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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