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Worker Perishes in Oil Field Water Tank

Thursday, October 4, 2012

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One tank cleaner was killed and another was seriously injured this week when the floor gave way in the tank they were cleaning at a California plant near Bakersfield, authorities said.

 Oildale Energy LLC

 Oildale Energy LLC

 The plant is owned by Oildale Energy LLC.

The two employees, one of them unconscious, were trapped inside the 15-foot-tall tank for several hours before they were rescued.

After the two were pulled out, Barry Snelson, 54, of Bakersfield, was pronounced dead at the scene. The other worker, who was not identified, suffered a broken leg.

The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal-OSHA) is investigating the accident.

Routine Cleaning

Authorities said the men were conducting routine cleaning about 9:45 a.m. Wednesday (Oct. 3) at the Live Oak Cogen Plant when the accident occurred. The plant is owned by Oildale Energy LLC.

The men were employees of Brahma Group, a Salt Lake City, UT-based firm that performs industrial maintenance, steel fabrication and erection, and project management for industrial and commercial customers.

The company, which also has an office in Bakersfield, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The men were standing on some kind of makeshift flooring to do the work when “something happened with the floor” and it collapsed, said Eric Coughran, of the Kern County Fire Department.

The tank, used for water filtering, contained a number of pipes. Snelson apparently hit his head and was knocked out in the fall; he was still unconscious when firefighters pulled him out several hours later. The other worker apparently broke his leg on the piping.

The tank apparently contained no toxic vapors, Coughran said. Nevertheless, Cal-OSHA was conducting testing on the vessel later.

Rescue Effort

Rescue teams initially tried to reach the injured men through the side of the tank, but the thick walls and extensive piping made that impossible, Coughran told Bakersfield Now.

The responders then worked to reach the workers through an 18-inch opening in the top of the 10-foot diameter vessel, using a so-called “high point” rescue.

“Basically, we have a tripod with a rope, and we send a firefighter down in the tank,” Coughran told the newspaper. “The firefighter puts a rescue harness on the patient; we pull the patient out of the tank.”

When the firefighter reached Snelson, he was not breathing and had no pulse.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Health and safety; Industrial Contractors; Tanks

Comment from peter gibson, (10/5/2012, 11:27 AM)

Makeshift comes back to bite you every time.Most of these field workers are real dumb, and require constant handholding ,and supervision.That is your labor force today.

Comment from jason bray, (10/5/2012, 11:13 PM)

Well maybe it should be made-to-shift. A temporary support has to be tested for safety. It is too bad someone had to lose there life because the company doesn't care about training.

Comment from Mark Schilling, (10/9/2012, 6:39 AM)

To Peter Gibson - Makeshift is the wrong word. That makes it sound like somebody just made something up on the fly and that most certainly did not happen. The appropriate word is "temporary." This vessel has permanent internal structures for process function. Like most vessels, it was not designed and built with permanent internal structures to facilitate internal inspection because the two functions are almost always at odds. So during planned turnarounds, temporary structures (e.g., platforms) are put in for temporary access, a temporary purpose. It's not your fault. The article does indeed use the term make-shift. It's just the wrong word. And no, most of these field workers are not "real dumb." That comment is baseless. Jason Bray got it mostly right. For what the article refers to as a "routine cleaning" these are temporary structures for a made-to-shift purpose and they need to be inspected and tested to ensure safety. That much is right on target. This cleaning operation is routine. They have done it many times in the past. They knew what they were doing. They most assuredly had a plan based on experience with prior inspections. And I'll wager that the people inside the tank were OSHA trained and certified for confined spaces. Something went wrong. We don't yet know precisely what. The sad part is the ignorant statement that the company doesn't care about training. There is just no need for such unsupported judgments that workers are REAL DUMB and that Companies don't care about training and safety.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (10/9/2012, 9:17 AM)

I'd like to see more information on the flooring when it becomes clear. It could be modular scaffolding which is erected - temporary. It could be some scrap 2x4s which were nailed together because they were handy - makeshift. We don't yet have enough information to know which it was, or somewhere in between.

Comment from Mark Schilling, (10/10/2012, 10:08 AM)

Tom - I agree. We don't have enough information yet. We certainly don't have enough info to be declaring that the workers are real dumb and that companies don't care about health and safety. I'm quite sure that "makeshift" is the wrong word. This was a routine operation. They have done this lots of times. This time something went wrong. The latest news is that the authorities think there might have been a pressure release, a kind of "explosion" that knocked things apart. That would be very different than scaffolding failing on its own because it was constructed from scrap 2x4s. This new information makes it sound like a process related problem (lock-out, tag-out?). It's beginning to sound like gravity wasn't the root problem. We need to wait for the Cal-OSHA conclusion.

Comment from Ron Howard, (10/10/2012, 10:51 AM)

Tank owners should REQUIRE certified Tank Entry Supervisors on the jobsite. Certified Tank Entry Supervisors are trained and experienced to identify potential hazards associated with tank entries for any purpose. Storage Tank owners should be the responsible parties in confined space entry into tanks.

Comment from Mark Schilling, (10/11/2012, 9:07 AM)

Good comments Ron, and I believe that most facility owners do indeed pay attention and that they have requirements, by law as well as of their own accord. I've been inside hundreds of storage tanks and various kinds of process vessels over the past 30+ years. There were a few times that I was really concerned for my safety. For example, I was in a scrubber at a coal-fired power plant. I was up about 3 floors on the scaffolding. And someone above and to the side started to do some cutting or welding from the outside of the vessel. I don't know. Sparks were flying. It was like a 4th of July display. I just got out of there as fast as possible. It's easy to blow stuff off as untrained idiots and a nobody cares attitude. But in my experience, smart people can do really dumb things too. We can see the "dummies" and we get suspicious but we trust the "smart" guys. You say that the facility owner should be responsible. In large part I agree. Sometimes the smart guys screw up. No one is entitled to the benefit of the doubt in a matter such as this.

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