Tips for Safer, Cleaner Fluid Transfer Areas
Small leaks are a problem, too. Being prepared will keep spills to a minumum.
- By Karen D. Hamel
- Jul 01, 2008
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
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
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
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
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.