An operator working the night shift had to sample the effluent from a Chemical Plant to see if the settling ponds he was checking could be emptied to another pond and then to the river. Sampling involved putting a small glass bottle in a metal carrier attached to a 6 ft steel rod, then walking to the pond edge and dipping the bottle in the liquid. This liquid was really terrible stuff: it could be caustic soda, hydrochloric acid, and "tars" known to be extremely corrosive and carcinogenic. The material was quite hot as well, requiring insulated rubber gloves for handling.
At 2 AM that morning, the operator was attempting to get the sample but the level was very low, requiring that he walk down the bank closer to the liquid. He was wearing all the required safety gear: non-slip, tall rubber boots, goggles, rubber gloves. As he approached, he started to slip and slide on the slick "gumbo-like" material lining the pond, down toward the center where the effluent was bubbling out of the pipe! Because he couldn’t stop sliding and was VERY afraid of drowning in that muck, he flipped around from his back onto his front and dug (literally "clawed") his fingers into the ground to halt his descent. After a BIG sigh of relief he was able to move out of the pond... without his sample bottle. He was unhurt and did not require medical attention.
Using the safety suggestion process in place at this company, he was able to get proper piers built, with lights, to prevent a recurrence of the above NEAR MISS.
Sodium Hydroxide Burn
Yeah, I was that guy.
A colleague of mine, Randy, was working the night shift in the Caustic Plant. This fellow was a star performer: very conscientious, professional, and of course safe. On this night however he had other things on his mind that were distracting him.
After loading a tanker truck with caustic soda, it was part of the procedure to disconnect the large 4 inch hose from the bottom of the skimmer, then flush it out. Randy knew the procedure well, but this time he forgot to de-pressure the line before snapping the quick-disconnects. As a result, very hot 73% caustic soda, at 150 deg C came spewing out the end of the hose, covering Randy. He wasted no time rushing to the nearby safety shower, activating it and causing an alarm to sound in the control room. Three operators ran to his aid and while still under the high-flow shower, stripped him of all his clothing, and cut his boots off. By radio they contacted the ambulance crew, who took him to hospital.
Despite the quick action to get under the shower, and the quick response by all, the thermal and chemical burns were serious enough to give Randy only a 50/50 chance of survival. After a 6 month hospital stay, he was discharged and came back to work. 20 years after the accident happened people still notice his "raccoon-like" appearance due to the caustic burning every part of his face, except the part that was covered by mono-goggles.
The Town of Fort Saskatchewan could have been declared a Major Disaster Area had the following incident gotten out of hand.
The chlorine plant had just installed a new chlorine skid. This 80 foot long concrete structure is made of individual cells that are 12 feet square and about 6 inches thick. Each cell has a pair of "feeders" supplying brine to it, which is then electrolyzed by 550 volt @55,000 amps DC power. When the process is running, the brine is continuously fed in, caustic solution drains off the bottom of each cell, and chorine and hydrogen gas is removed from the top surface of each cell. Each cell contains a steel screen, covered with asbestos, surrounding a 1" thick carbon anode.
During startup, the only people allowed in the area are the cell operators and supervising operators, due to the inherent danger presented. (I was a cell operator and I guess I was expendable…) The startup procedure consists of slowly applying power, while maintaining the liquid levels over the anodes.
On this particular day, startup was proceeding as usual. Because of a faulty pH analyzer on the skid, an Instrument Tech ran up to the top of this structure to make a quick fix. Not only was he not supposed to be anywhere near this when it was starting up, he didn’t have proper safety boots on. (When I worked there, the immense electric field in the skid would make my sweaty feet tingle through my very thick rubber boots). The tech had cowboy boots on!
Ponds Cold Cream