Fall Protection for Storage Tank Workers

Many types of storage tanks require government inspections, and all of them need scheduled maintenance.

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Published on: June 1, 2013

Many types of storage tanks require government inspections, and all of them need scheduled maintenance. When workers are climbing up the sides and negotiating the platforms or sleek, metal walls, they may slip and fall without effective fall protection. Furthermore, without the proper fall arrest training to use the fall protection equipment, much of it is useless. In fact, the risk of falling may be greater among untrained workers with equipment than among those without equipment because it lulls them into a false sense of security.

Inspecting Tanks and Assessing Risks

The first step in adding or maintaining fall restraint equipment on storage tanks is to inspect the tanks and assess the risks of falling. An experienced team of lifeline installation personnel will be able to conduct a thorough inspection so that hazards can be identified and the appropriate equipment can be recommended.

A qualified inspector takes a step-by-step approach to the task of risk assessment, and a full inspection should include all of the following:

  • Initial meeting with management and key personnel
  • Complete walkthrough of the tank and supporting walkways
  • Horizontal lifeline inspection
  • Load testing of davits
  • Load testing of tiebacks
  • Observation of standard routines
  • Safety plan proposal

It is important to note that inspection personnel should be fully qualified for this type of work and have experience with heavy machinery and storage tank mechanics. Some companies use their sales team for this work, but very few salespeople are properly trained to inspect tanks for fall protection.

Fall Protection Equipment

Once a safety plan is approved, implementation usually begins shortly afterward. In most cases, fall arrest systems will be installed that can work for fixed-roof tanks, open-top tanks, water tanks, grain silos and other large storage tanks. These fall protection systems are designed around the style of the tank, and they provide continuous protection for anyone working at dangerous heights.

The equipment that may be installed is as follows:

  • Handrails – Handrails can be installed along all stairways and walkways so that workers always have something to hold onto for stability. These handrails require no hot welding or drilling, so the tank is never compromised.
  • Inclined Rigid Rails – These rails are installed alongside the handrails of steep stairways or ramps so that lifelines can be attached as they walk up or down the side of the tank.
  • Horizontal Lifelines – These lifelines are designed for floating-roof tanks to provide safe passage around the perimeter.
  • Roof Anchors – A roof anchor is a circular device that is secured around an access hatch. This allows workers to attach lifelines to the anchor and walk anywhere on the roof while remaining protected from falls.
  • Wingrips – The trademarked name of these devices originated from the fact that they are primarily used to safely walk on top of aircraft. However, these all-in-one anchors also work well on tanks that cannot support permanent roof anchors.

Fall Arrest Training

After the fall restraints are installed, anyone who works on the storage tank should be properly trained in their use. Training programs can be customized to meet a specific organization’s requirements. Not every course will be needed for every company. Some of the courses teach about managing access to areas where falls may occur while others revolve around the actual use of the equipment. Additional modules involve the calibration of the equipment and maintenance schedules.

All materials are provided for these training programs, and the classes may be held at the fall protection company’s location or onsite at the storage tank location. In addition, a special course is available for the training of new trainers. This allows the storage tank company to save money by holding its own training sessions for existing or new personnel.

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