Let them live long
It has been proved that constant exposure to petrochemicals increases the risk of cancer and other illnesses in workers. ANLERIE DE WET investigates how companies protect their workers from the side effects of these hazardous chemicals
Aplethora of studies have found that petrochemical workers have a substantially increased risk of getting lung cancer, respiratory diseases and genitourinary illnesses.
Mike Zinn, marketing manager at Skyriders – which specialises in industrial rope access – says the company works in close collaboration with its petrochemical customers to ensure that, in terms of health and safety and environment awareness, the highest standards are maintained at all times.
“These are particularly hazardous environments, but we have the necessary expertise and experience to deliver a world-class service that minimises downtime and boosts productivity,” says Zinn.
Before being allowed out in the field with petrochemicals, all Skyriders employees complete comprehensive training programmes.
“The team receives detailed induction training for the general petrochemical environments. Once on site, the plant owners facilitate site-specific induction – depending on their operations and products,” explains Zinn. “If we are applying a certain corrosion-protection product, the team is trained by the product supplier on various aspects of the product and the material safety data sheets.”
The petrochemical industry represents a particularly hazardous environment in terms of potentially toxic and sometimes explosive materials. Although training is essential to keep these workers safe, there are some things that only personal protective equipment (PPE) can prevent.
Mercia Maletswa, SHEQ manager at Cargo Carriers, says the company’s truck drivers, who transport petrochemicals, are given safety training in product handling and dangerous goods.
“The training includes how to handle the product, dangers relating to it and the appropriate emergency response. We also equip all drivers who work with petrochemicals with flameproof overalls, goggles, gloves and safety shoes,” explains Maletswa.
Zinn notes: “Because toxic chemicals are present on many of these sites, PPE must be both flameproof and acid-resistant. It must also be clearly marked to enhance visibility, and should include complete face and head protection.
“The project and safety-management teams at Skyriders conduct a thorough risk assessment to determine the specific PPE requirements, which can differ depending on the area where the team will be working with petrochemicals.”
The strict adherence to safety standards has thus far prevented staff from Skyriders and Cargo Carriers from falling ill.
“By having the latest technology and skilled personnel available, together with the relevant certification, Skyriders has successfully tackled major projects in the petrochemical industry in South Africa,” boasts Zinn.
“Skyriders has ISO 9001, OSHAS 18001:2007 and ISO 14001 certification, which is mandatory in this sector. In addition, major petrochemical players conduct their own thorough audits of safety procedures and processes at Skyriders before awarding the company any contracts,” he adds.
Maletswa says: “The procedures which are utilised at Cargo Carriers ensure that drivers are not exposed to petrochemicals. The loading and offloading of petrochemicals takes place in an enclosed system.
“At the loading point, dome covers are closed and loading pipes are joined with vapour recovery pipes, which transport fumes back into the system. The customer connects the delivery hose when offloading, and if spillage occurs a specialised contractor is called.”
Staff at both Skyriders and Cargo Carriers are obliged to undergo annual medical examinations.
Zinn elaborates: “The teams working in the petrochemical environment have to attend comprehensive annual medical examinations. At certain plants staff are tested before the project commences and after its completion.”
He adds: “All the employees at Skyriders have complete medical aid, which is paid for in full by the company.”
Maletswa concludes: “Although the medical tests don’t include testing for cancer, the examinations will detect some of the symptoms related to it.”
Medical cases related to petrochemical exposure have decreased significantly over the decades, which is probably as a result of increased awareness of the dangers of exposure.