Tuesday, May 6, 2008
I B Flummoxed. How else can I be?
A bit of background:
My company uses fairly large quantities of hydraulic oil. So, rather than have a zillion steel drums sitting around, we store our oil inventory in 275 gallon "totes."
Totes look like giant cubic plastic boxes. Picture your favorite refrigerator box-wine large enough to hold 275 gallons. Now, replace the cardboard wine box with a steel cage and make the plastic bag have thick enough walls so that it holds its shape. That's a tote.
But, because anything can leak, and because neither I nor the EPA want hydraulic oil running down the street in rivers, all users of big quantities of hazardous liquids are required to set up "secondary containment" around or under all "primary" containers. In other words, if the tote leaks, it has to leak into a tub or something so that it is contained for disposal.
For totes, we use specially made "pallets" that look like a monstrous kid's square wading pool, with a thick grill over the top. The totes sit on this grill and if they leak, the oil simply drops down into the "wading pool."
However, the secondary containment pool has a finite volume. If you let the pool fill up and don't empty it, then subsequent leaks would overflow the pool and run out on the floor. Therefore, one would think that every person would think of that when they saw the pool filling up, over time. Wouldn't one always strive to keep the secondary empty and dry?
One would also think that folks working around these totes and their secondary containment pools would object to the smell of the hydraulic oil emitting up from the pool, if you leave oil in it.
Finally, one would think that just out of general good housekeeping practices that workers wouldn't want all of that leaked oil sitting around out in the open. Oil just seems to get everywhere when you have it out in the open.
BUT ... our pudding heads are not (apparently) folks that think or act in any of the ways that "one" would think!
Arrived at 8. Plugged in my laptop and booted it. Shuffled a little paper and decided that it would be a good time for me to do a sweep through the shop, ensuring that safe work practices are being observed.
Walked out the door, into the shop, and there's a tote, perched on its secondary containment, with piles and piles of granulated absorbent heaped up around it.
"What's going on?!?" I gasped.
"That funny tub thing got a leak," said one of the braver workers.
"How ... uh ... wha ... hey. How would the secondary leak? It's supposed to be empty?" I spat out.
"No. It always has a lot of oil in it ... at least since they were filling those hoses the other day and spilled a whole bunch down in there," said Brave Boy.
"No," I said back, "No, there is never supposed to be ANY oil in the secondary containment unless the tote leaks!" I said, starting to lose it.
"I didn't know," said Brave Boy, now meekly.
I'm thinking, "Yeah, but there are a half dozen "old salts" standing around you that know damn well that there isn't supposed to be oil in the secondary," but I sucked it in and kept the thoughts to myself. Time for a safety meeting -- for sure!
"Wait," I said, "That's a new secondary. How could it leak?"
Now the troops within ear shot are starting to look REALLY busy. Way too busy to be a part of this conversation.
Brave Boy goes on, "Well, we were sliding the plastic thingy into the pallet rack and when he backed out, his forks were tilted up too much and he ripped a hole in the bottom of the thingy."
Two more stirs.
The metal cage around the tote has fork lift channels under it so that one can lift these totes up off of the secondary containment for filling or discharging them. Steel. Strong. Fully protecting the tote's plastic bladder. In contrast, secondaries have narrow, thin PLASTIC grooves under them so that you could, if you were stupid, lift directly under the plastic wading pool to lift the pool and the tote, together, as a unit. Well over a ton of load on the little pool bottom.
Huh. I wonder why it split?
So-ho-ho-ho-ho, now I have a ripped open, useless $2,000.00 secondary; plus, another 10 gallons or so of liquid contaminated (hazardous material) oil to pay someone to dispose of; plus several 40 lb bags of "kitty litter" oil sorbent, soaked with oil (hazardous material) to also pay someone to dispose of.
Maybe if I'm lucky, tomorrow somebody will jam a forklift fork through this tote's steel cage and gash the plastic bladder open. I've always wanted to see if those oil containment booms work well. I wonder if we can get them deployed before the oil seeps under the office wall and into the office carpet?