Hanford

Hanford tank farm arc flash protector may save lives

Tank farm workers can use a newly developed face shield to protect against an arc flash while they are wearing respirators to protect against chemical vapor exposure.
Tank farm workers can use a newly developed face shield to protect against an arc flash while they are wearing respirators to protect against chemical vapor exposure. Courtesy WRPS

Workers at the Hanford tank farms no longer have to choose between protection from potentially deadly arc flashes or from exposure to chemical vapors.

Washington River Protection Solutions helped develop a face shield to protect against an arc flash. The shield can be worn with full-face respirators, such as the supplied air respirators now worn at Hanford tank farms to protect workers from chemical vapors.

The new equipment earned the Hanford tank farm contractor the Innovation Award at the Voluntary Protection Program Participants’ Association’s recent national conference.

Arc flashes are a type of electrical explosion in which temperatures can reach 36,000 degrees. The explosion, which includes a blinding flash of light and a deafening noise, forces an enormous amount of energy from the electrical equipment, spreading hot gases and molten metal.

Arc flashes have been in the news in the Mid-Columbia. An arc flash last year at Grant PUD’s Priest Rapids Dam upriver from Hanford caused six workers to be hospitalized with serious electrical burns, including one man who spent almost a month in intensive care at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Tank farm workers questioned whether there was a way to guard against arc flashes at Hanford, leading to a product that can save lives there, said Mark Lindholm, president of Washington River Protection Solutions.

“In the past, workers had to weigh the hazards and choose whether to wear respiratory protection or arc flash protection,” said David Kuster, one of several Washington River Protection Solution electricians who worked with a supplier and testing laboratories on the face shield and helped with a presentation on the shield at the national conference.

In the past, workers had to weigh the hazards and choose whether to wear respiratory protection or arc flash protection.

David Kuster, Washington River Protection Solution electrician

Not having to choose one protection or the other is a game changer, Kuster said.

In addition to electricians, Washington River Protection Solutions safety professionals, management and Department of Energy officials helped develop the face shield.

It is being used by all tank farm electricians and at some other Hanford nuclear reservation projects. The face shield also is available for commercial use.

This is the second year in a row that the tank farm contractor has won the Innovation Award.

Last year, Washington River Protection Solutions was recognized for protecting workers with a tool its employees developed to safely take radiation readings.

The tool features lightweight piping with survey points built in to position electronic dosimeters, allowing radiation levels to be recorded by workers keeping a safe distance from long pieces of contaminated equipment removed from underground tanks holding radioactive waste. The tool is moved down the length of the equipment until the survey is completed.

Washington River Protection Solutions also was awarded the Voluntary Protection Program Star of Excellence Award for the second year in a row at the recent conference, for maintaining a recordable injury case rate 75 percent lower than the industry average.

The tank farm contractor has had workers exposed to possible chemical vapors, but most of those incidents are not classified as recordable injuries.

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