A Hanford contractor will pay a fine after one of its subcontractor’s employees fell into a liquid-filled, abandoned septic tank at the nuclear reservation.
Washington River Protection Solutions has agreed to a consent order requiring it to pay the Department of Energy $45,000 and improve safety and response processes. The DOE Office of Enforcement investigated the incident.
Questions were raised, including about a delay in calling for an emergency response.
Three construction workers with American Electric Inc. were digging by hand to locate an out-of-service septic tank in the AX Tank Farm in central Hanford on Jan. 21, according to the consent order. The tank farm has underground tanks of radioactive waste, with the septic tank part of the support infrastructure for work.
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All three were wearing protective clothing and were carrying tanks with a one-hour supply for their supplied air respirators.
As the workers dug, part of the top of the tank collapsed.
One worker fell into the hole but grabbed onto the soil on top of the tank, according to the consent order. His respiratory gear also caught on the soil, keeping him from falling deeper.
He was submerged in liquid to just above his waist, according to a Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board staff report.
He yelled for help and several workers in the area quickly helped pull him out of the tank, according to information from the defense board and the consent order.
The worker who fell was surveyed for radiological contamination, with none found.
The work package for this job did not include the potential hazard of a tank collapse and id not require an emergency shower, which was available and used.
Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board staff report
Employees at the site called American Electric, which notified emergency services.
American Electric safety personnel arrived at the septic tank several minutes later and told the worker who fell to remove contaminated clothing and use the safety shower.
The Hanford Fire Department arrived about 14 minutes after being notified, according to the consent order. The worker who fell and rescuers were taken to the Hanford on-site medical provider about 40 minutes after the top of the tank collapsed.
One of the rescuers suffered a back injury.
Washington River Protection Solutions voluntarily reported the incident.
In agreeing to settle the matter with a consent order, the DOE Office of Enforcement “placed considerable weight on WRPS’s investigation of the event and credible corrective actions to improve hazard identification and control during the work planning process,” said Steven Simonson, director of the Office of Enforcement, in a letter to the tank farm contractor.
The information prepared for the septic tank task, called a work package, did not include the potential hazard of a tank collapse and did not require an emergency shower, according to the defense board.
After reviewing the incident, the Office of Enforcement had concerns not only about planning for the task, but also training of workers and planning of emergency response, according to the consent order.
Washington River Protection Solutions began evaluating areas throughout the tank farms that had the potential for collapse immediately after the incident, according to the defense board.
The terms of the consent order require it to develop a list of all inactive septic tanks and sinkholes, inspect them, post signs and make sure access to them is controlled by June 2017.
The contractor also will assess whether its work planning addresses emergency response and rescue for specific jobs. And it will look at its subcontractor selection process to make sure subcontractors are qualified to protect worker safety.
The consent order requires Washington River Protection Solutions to use the company’s own money to pay the fine, but improvements are a cost that can be billed to DOE under the terms of its DOE contract.
The Office of Enforcement released the consent order on Friday, which was a day off work at Hanford.