Decontamination Protects Workers from Dangerous Substances by Eric Zimmer, CEO SWS Environmental Services
Industrial facilities generate waste while producing valuable products for businesses and consumers. Decontamination is often required for the neutralization or removal of dangerous substances or microorganisms from work areas.
Decontamination protects workers from substances that may contaminate the working environment and be transferred through dermal or respiratory contact. These items may eventually permeate the protective clothing, respiratory equipment, tools, vehicles, and other equipment used on site. Decontamination protects all site personnel by minimizing the transfer of harmful materials into clean areas; helps prevent mixing of incompatible chemicals; and protects the community by preventing uncontrolled transportation of contaminants from the working area.
SWS is the premier trusted partner for industrial decontamination services. A key part of our overall training, resources and procedures are focused upon providing high quality decontamination solutions for our customers.
Recently we assisted a leading multi-national manufacturer with scheduled decontamination at multiple facilities. The customer was concerned with elevated levels of hydrocarbons and heavy metals, including lead and cadmium, that had accumulated in equipment and ducts from years of production work. These substances unaddressed could impact worker health, create long term environmental liabilities and diminish property value.
The following provides a high-level approach to meet the goals on the above referenced project:
Planning the Decontamination Project
The customer’s goal was to clean active production areas while minimizing facility downtime and any impact to production workers. At this phase, determining “how clean is clean?” drives much of the project planning. This is sometimes driven by regulatory concerns or business needs, and is often a product of what is to happen next in the affected area. SWS worked closely with the customer to define their needs and develop a project plan, including schedule and budget.
Safety is always first and foremost and is integrated into all aspects of the work, especially in the planning phase. Once the work objectives were set, a hazard assessment was conducted within the facility. A pre-construction safety meeting was held with all team members. This included a facility walk-thru to set clear expectations on safety practices and protective equipment. Daily safety meetings were held to continuously emphasize, monitor and mitigate safety risks. The project was completed with zero safety issues.
Implementing the Plan
A two-phased approach was utilized with Phase 1 consisting of preparation and Phase 2 consisting of decontamination and removal.
Preparation: Preparation included SWS crews relocating transportable equipment to another facility for future cleaning, aligned with budgetary constraints set by the customer.
Decontamination: Facility decontamination entailed cleaning nontransferable equipment and interior and exterior ductwork and piping. The SWS team systematically decontaminated various metal and exposed working surfaces. A variety of decontamination techniques (e.g. vacuum units, scrapers, squeegees, power washing, cleaning solutions, etc.) were utilized based on the accessibility and surface type. Inspection and acceptance intervals were scheduled for the client to confirm that the previously agreed upon decontamination levels were met. Hazardous materials generated from the decontamination were classified as hazardous waste. Prior to removing any hazardous waste, handling and safety instructions were reviewed by the SWS team. Proper personal protective equipment (PPE) was donned and waste was removed, containerized, labeled and staged for subsequent transportation and disposal.
The properly planned and implemented project was completed on time and within budget. All areas were successfully decontaminated to the designated levels allowing for operations to continue uninterrupted and the health and safety of all facility employees to remain uncompromised.