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Static electricity is all around us. While usually just a nuisance in everyday life, in a flammable atmosphere, its effects can be catastrophic. Many injuries and fatalities are caused by fires and explosions directly linked to a static spark igniting a vapor, gas, or dust atmosphere. Even relatively small static sparks have sufficient energy to ignite many flammable vapors, gases, and even airborne dusts. Tanker trucks at terminals are an example of such risks during especially during the filling process. There is a constant danger, whenever flammable liquids or powders are transferred. Therefore, effective grounding is necessary to ensure dissipation of static electricity.

Recently, an Austin, Texas-based attorney who represents the widow of a truck driver who died in 2006, settled the couple’s wrongful death case for $3.2 Million. The truck driver died when a tanker truck that was being loaded with motor oil at a terminal, exploded, throwing the driver off the truck and causing injuries resulting in his death. According to court documents, the tanker, on the day of the accident, had a strong smell of gasoline but was filled with an oil-based compound. Gasoline fumes run the risk of igniting during the filing process because of static electricity. Normal procedure to avoid this risk is to ground the tanker and prevent sparks from lighting the fumes; that procedure, according to the planitiff’s attorney, was not followed in this case.

Again, we have a situation where there are safety protocols and procedures that, if followed, would prevent injury and death. Again and again in these cases, safety protocols are not followed and serious injury or death occurs. Grounding is the means of providing a pathway so the accumulated electricity flows from the truck and into the earth, "grounding" it. Grounding can be done with a simple, portable clamping system. It is not the only recommended practice to prevent static build-up. It is also important to have a system in place that monitors the static charge in the tanker. This monitoring system is connected to the truck and the device that fills the tanker. If a static charge is detected in the tanker due to improper grounding, no fuel will flow into the truck’s containment unit. Monitors will flag whether or not there is a static charge present. Grounding and monitoring must be done in the right order and at the right time. Before loading or unloading the tanker, the monitoring system should be connected. Then, the truck should be grounded to eliminate any static charge. Once the monitoring light changes from red (unsafe) to green (safe), the loading or unloading process can begin.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board(CSB) states that, when transferring liquids, it is standard industry practice to ground tankers to prevent static discharges. They also believe that grounding may not be enough. Therefore, they recommend these additional steps.

  • · Obtain detailed and technical information on the liquids from manufacturers
  • · Purge storage tanks with an inert gas to remove oxygen
  • · Add anti-static agents to the liquids
  • · Pump liquids more slowly
  • · Verify that storage tank level floats are effectively bonded

Companies need to address the hazards associated with static electricity and flammable liquid transfer and handling operations by applying these and other good practice guidelines to determine if their facilities are properly designed and being safely operated. Safety protocols and procedures must be followed. Then and only then will serious injury and death be prevented in these dangerous situations.

Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide legal finance cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed personal injury plaintiffs involved in pending litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.

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