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Emergency Cleanup Of Collapsed Waste Storage Tent

An EWP Success Story: Oak Ridge (Y12)

On January 5, 1997, at approximately 2:30 a.m., a large canvas tent covering a one-quarter-acre storage area for 1,500 barrels of radioactive and mixed waste on Chestnut Ridge above the Y12 site at Oak Ridge was blown away by gale-force winds. An initial assessment showed that two of the tent's four main support beams had fallen, rupturing barrels and spilling their contents. The two remaining beams, though still standing, were only partially connected, threatening to fall onto other barrels. The collapsed structure created a heap of tons of steel cables, toppled beams, tent canvas, and leaking hazardous waste containers.

Stabilizing the critical situation demanded immediate corrective action. Detailed plans needed to be developed to ensure that the fallen beams were cleared, the partially connected beams stabilized, waste containers relocated, leaking drums removed and the contents repackaged, and that the 10,000 gallons of contaminated rainwater within the facility's diked area cleaned up. Concomitantly, work had to proceed in accordance with requirements and controls necessary to protect the environment and the health and safety of those involved.

Drum repair kits or drum tourniquets can be used for quick temporary repair of drums, barrels or tanks in order to contain hazardous waste and liquids until permanent containment can be implemented. Leaking drums can be transfered into overpacks or salvage drums allowing you to handle and transport hazardous materials safely.

As highlighted below, the incident provided an opportunity for demonstrating many of the fundamental tenets of enhanced work planning at Oak Ridge.

Management Commitment

After Waste Management and the plant shift superintendent's office performed initial inspections, the Maintenance General Supervisor was contacted to lead the planning and oversee the response operations. Y12's rigger planner was then notified and he and the Maintenance General Supervisor met with plant managers in the Emergency Operations Center at 4 a.m. to determine how they would coordinate the efforts to stabilize and repair the fallen structure safely.

The Y12 Plant Manager and the management team emphasized that the objective was to work safely and minimize any damage to the remaining barrels. They made clear that the job must be planned and executed in a safe and timely manner with a coordinated effort from all necessary organizational groups.

Work Scope and Responsibilities Clearly Defined Up-Front

In order of their importance, the primary necessary tasks were the clearing of the two fallen beams and the stabilization and subsequent removal of the standing (partially connected) beams to ensure that no additional damage would occur. To avoid collapse of the remaining structure, the clearing would need to be accomplished the first day. Stabilization work would need to be coordinated with environmental personnel who were assigned to assess, contain, and clean up releases from the barrels.

Up-Front, Multidisciplinary Planning; Worker Involvement; Parallel Review; Job Walkdown; Hazard-Based/Graded Planning Approach

To determine how the work was to be done, a multidisciplinary planning team was assembled at the site at dawn. The team, consisting of maintenance supervisory personnel, a planner, ES&H (Environmental Safety and Health) support, and craftspeople, walked the job to consider options and arrive at the best plan of attack for each task identified. Emphasis was on drawing on the craft skills of the workers involved. Through the collaboration of the various disciplines involved, the planning team was able to look simultaneously at all aspects of the job and arrive at an effective, coordinated plan.

Once the first phase of the planning was concluded, a formal lift plan was developed and set in motion, with the participation and simultaneous approval of the appropriate support groups (i.e., industrial safety, industrial hygiene, environmental, engineering, quality assurance). After the two partially connected beams were lifted into place by two large mobile cranes, the cables and bolts still connected to them were cut so that the beams could be properly reset. This process required close coordination between two crane operators, two crews working out of two bucket trucks, and the ground crew.

The same crew (already familiar with the first successfully completed lift) then developed lift plans for each additional lift using the already-proven planning approach. Critical-lift plans were developed and completed for each of the four main beams. For the less critical lifts (beam disassembly, section movement, loading), the crew did not create formal plans, instead relying on craft skills.

Have trained personnel in charge to assess the site and determine what risks and hazards are present. Preparing an effective plan is paramount for minimizing injuries, enivironmental effects and costly damages. Dawg offers a large selection of safety training materials to help keep your personnel up to date and well trained to handle any crisis.

Measure Performance; Draw from Lessons Learned

Operations went smoothly. Planning for the first critical lift (stabilizing and cutting cables) took approximately 4 hours (as compared to an estimated minimum of 2 days to plan and get all the approvals for this type of priority critical lift per Y12's normal procedure). Initial tasks (from the inspection of the site, through the planning process, to eliminating the risk posed by the two unstable beams) were safely accomplished in 13 hours. The entire cleanup effort, including removing the four main structural beams, cutting them into smaller sections for disposal, removing all the cabling that was holding the canvas tent in place and removing the material from the site, was completed in 4 days.

Enhanced Work Planning Applied

The successful and timely cleanup of the collapsed tent incorporated many tenets associated with Enhanced Work Planning.

  • Management commitment to a safe and effective operation was displayed by Y12's Plant Manager and the management team from the beginning. They clearly established the project's priority and helped remove obstacles so that the job could run smoothly.

  • Work was clearly defined up-front by a knowledgeable, committed team who determined the scope and timing of the project along with the resources required.
  • Roles and responsibilities were clearly defined and accountabilities were commensurate with authorities. A single person was in charge who effectively drew on the resources at his disposal.
  • Up-front, multidisciplinary planning was used that relied on craft involvement, parallel review of plans (not sequential), and onsite job walkdowns.
  • A hazard-based, graded approach to the work was illustrated when formal lift plans were used for high-hazard operations while craft skills were relied on for less critical lifts.
  • ES&H organizations clearly understood their support role to operations and permits were 'driven back' to the ES&H experts such that operations personnel (in this case the facility owners) determined the need for the intervention of the ES&H support groups based on their detailed knowledge of the facility and what tasks needed to be accomplished. Operations then worked closely with the support organizations to drive the completion of permits by the subject matter experts and the assignment of support ES&H staff in a coordinated, responsive manner.
  • Performance was measured and compared to the status quo, and lessons learned were communicated so that successful operations could be repeated.

In this incident at Y12, Enhanced Work Planning helped transform a 3-week cleanup (under Y12's usual planning process) into a 4-day effort, without compromising worker or environmental safety. In the words of James Stone, Deputy Division Director, Y12 Waste Management Division,

During my years at the site, I can't remember any project that went as well. Enhanced planning maximized the effectiveness of the sixty people involved in the project representing numerous organizations and technical disciplines. We should capture what made this successful and make it a standard part of doing business at Oak Ridge.

Click here to go to the EWP - U.S. Dept of Energy, Office of environment, Safety & Health

One of the best things we can do is to learn from these types of events. There is plenty of documentation of when things go wrong, but even more important is to show we have learned from the past. As we document successful cases like this, so that others can model to ensure other successful responses in the future.

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Be Prepared: Are you ready for an Emergency?

Preparation and quick response are the most important factors in handling emergency situations effectively. Having all the right tools and equipment is a key element for successfully responding to an emergency. Even more important, is communication and planning. If your employees are not properly informed, educated and trained on what to do in case of an emergency, you are destined for failure.

Proper planning, training and precautions will give your employees, staff or community a much greater chance for success, while minimizing risks of injury or costly effects of damage.

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