An investigation conducted by a Texas media outlet shows that federal safety inspectors do not maintain adequate records for companies that perform cleaning services for railroad petroleum tankers. The investigation, conducted by the Houston Chronicle, found that many of the companies escape notice by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, despite the dangerous nature of the work. About 51 people have died and scores of others were injured on the job while cleaning the railway cars during the past 15 years.
Public health experts say that the federal government’s lack of knowledge and failure to monitor the companies could have led to preventable fatal accidents. The activities performed by tank cleaners are extraordinarily toxic. Not only can workers suffer acute effects at the time of an incident, but they can also develop permanent disability because of prolonged exposure to the chemicals.
Industry professionals say that the employees are required to drop steam hoses into the petroleum tankers in order to loosen residue on the interior walls. Then, the workers climb inside the tankers and dislodge much of the residue by hand. In one of the most recent tragedies, a worker was doing just that when he perished in 2011. That victim was overwhelmed by toxic fumes, and he died on the job.
Inspectors with OSHA and other government agencies should be held responsible for failing to provide adequate oversight, but safety is ultimately the employer’s responsibility. A conscientious employer will work to ensure that tank cleaners are not exposed to dangerous situations, even without the threat of an OSHA violation. Workers who have been harmed on the job while cleaning railway tanks deserve financial recompense injuries through workers’ compensation,.
Source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “Rail tanker cleaning inspections lacking” No author given, May. 11, 2014