If your operation includes transferring, measuring or sampling petroleum-based fluid products, please watch the new NIOSH video that discusses the hazards workers must be aware of when working with both stationary and mobile tanks.
First, this is not a fire prevention video. The NIOSH and the California Department of Public Health's Occupational Health Branch video is about how toxic hydrocarbon-based vapor emissions can kill you or your workers.
Vapor emission safety risks are most often found in the oil and gas industries, but any industry that stores hydrocarbon-heavy products must be aware of the dangers of vapor emissions.
If you store your own petroleum products for use in your vehicles or you transfer oil products from vehicles to storage containers, it is imperative everyone responsible for working around toxic vapor emissions to be aware of current safety procedures.
Because the pressure inside a tank can vary and the wind/weather conditions surrounding the worker can change quickly, the released gas can either dissipate rapidly or hang in the air around the worker's head when the tank's hatch is opened.
The vapor plume that escapes from the open hatch can rapidly displace the oxygen and the high concentration of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) can be fatal.
Even a brief exposure (30 seconds or less) to high concentrations of hydrocarbons and a low-oxygen atmosphere can result in the rapid onset of respiratory depression, hypoxia, and fatal cardiac. Workers with pre-existing coronary artery disease are at even more risk.
Exposures can also have narcotic effects, causing dizziness, rapid disorientation, and confusion that could lead to loss of judgment, narcosis, and incapacitation.
We have been trained well to recognize fire hazards when working around petroleum products, but unfortunately, not as much emphasis has been directed towards personal health safety while working with stored fuels and oils.
AEMP suggests equipment managers download the NIOSH hazard alert, available here, to use in your next safety seminar. The alert is an excellent support resource and will open up dialogue about what your staff may know about vapor emissions and what your staff needs to know about them.
Additional information on this issue has been addressed by the American Petroleum Institute who recently updated their standard, API MPMS Chapter 18.2, Custody Transfer of Crude Oil from Lease Tanks Using Alternative Measurement Methods, covering best practice procedures for measuring, sampling, and working around tanks. (A read-only version is available on the API.org website.)