Tank trailer nitrogen deaths continue

In spite of efforts by carriers, shippers, cleaning racks and trade associations, workers continue to be killed by nitrogen widely used for product transfer and cargo protection in the tank truck industry.  The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently proposed a $30,900 fine following its investigation of a tank truck nitrogen-related death in Nebraska.

A 23-year old worker who had been sampling a load was found unresponsive in a tank trailer containing egg  products and nitrogen.  Michael Foods, based in Minnetonka MN, was cited for five serious violations, including “exposing employees to nitrogen hazards. “ A serious OSHA violation is one where death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard an employee knew or should have known exists. The company was given 15 days, to December 24, to comply with or contest the findings and fine.

“Confined spaces put workers at risk for serious injury and illness from hazards such as poor atmospheric quality,” said Bonita Winingham, OSHA’s area director in Omaha. “This tragedy could have been prevented had the employer implemented basic safety precautions associated with confined spaces and nitrogen exposure.”

OSHA found that the company:

1.    Failed to prevent employees from entering permit-required confined spaces.

2.    Did not ensure emergency services were proficient in confined space rescues

3.     Did not train workers on health hazards related to atmospheric chemicals in the workplace.

4.    Failed to evaluate respiratory hazards for employees sampling from nitrogen-filled tanks.

5.    Did not ensure that employees wore appropriate eye protection when exposed to corrosive liquids.

The challenge of preventing nitrogen-related deaths or injuries to tank truck workers has been discussed at safety meetings held by National Tank Truck Carriers and other industry groups, as well as by individual companies, since nitrogen was first utilized in the industry.  While the consensus is that nitrogen has been used safely and that a properly trained employee who follows tank entry or testing procedures will not be harmed by nitrogen, the deaths and injuries continue.  The issue will be discussed by shipper, carrier, tank cleaning and equipment manufacturers at a meeting of the Cargo Tank Risk Assessment Committee (CTRMC)  in Orlando FL on March 18. (Visit www.cargotanksafety.org.)

The US Chemical Safety Board has published information on nitrogen at: www.csb.gov/assets/1/19/Nitrogen_Asphyxiation_Bulletin_Training_Presentation.pdf

In a related case, OSHA recently proposed a $188,400 fine against Environmental Remediation and Recovery Inc,  Edinboro PA following its investigation of a fatality involving a 27-year old worker who  collapsed and later died while cleaning  oil residue in a 30,000 gallon railcar. The worker suffered from cardiac arrhythmia and was not able to exit the railcar on his own. 

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