Grundon Industrial Cleaning Services undertook the complex cleaning task of draining and cleaning the bitumen mixing tank at Chase Protective Coatings in Rye, part of Chase’s ongoing maintenance regime in order to combat the build-up of carbonised material.
As one of the best known manufacturers of corrosion protection and waterproofing systems, Sussex-based Chase Protective Coatings has a strong reputation for quality and reliability.
Working with clients across the pipeline, construction, marine and industrial environments, the company is based in Rye, where its high performance industrial coatings and linings are produced by mixing bitumen, rubbers and oils in a giant vessel.
The products provide impermeable, abrasion-resistant barriers against a variety of liquids and chemicals, and one of its most successful is corrosion protection tape, which is used to stop pipes rusting.
As the UK arm of the global Chase Corporation, the company’s biggest single market is in the Middle East, but it works across a range of industries, including the building trade, where its materials are used in damp coursing.
Part of its ongoing maintenance regime includes the annual draining and cleaning of the bitumen mixing tank in order to combat the build-up of carbonised material. Over time, this can accumulate on the sides and start to clog up the motor and mixing blades, reducing efficiency and capacity.
The complex cleaning task has to take place in a two-day period during the Christmas shutdown and the company works with Grundon Industrial Services (formerly Arundelle).
The latest cleaning operation was in December and Chris Ford, production manager at Chase Protective Coatings, says he had “total confidence” in the team’s ability to do an excellent job.
“I’ve always had nothing but a good experience with them, they are geared up to know what they are doing and that gives me a real comfort factor. We have a well-established relationship, their standards are very, very good and it works very well,” he said.
Given the nature of the work inside the tank safety is paramount, and the Grundon team has to meet strict Confined Space Regulations as well as comply with health and safety legislation and on-site safety rules.
The two companies have worked together for many years and the annual clean-up operation also gives Ford the opportunity to undertake regular maintenance work and inspect the integrity of the interior of the vessel, giving him the security that products are being stored in optimum conditions.
Andrew Stratton, who leads the team at Grundon Industrial Services, says the job presents a variety of challenges, including:
- Working within a confined space
- Strict regulations on the use of vibrating tools within a confined space
- Warm temperatures
- Stringent training qualifications
- Comprehensive PPE safety equipment for all personnel
“Until we go into the tank we have no way of knowing how bad it will be, but our staff have over 20 years’ of experience of tank cleaning and confined space entry work. We know that whatever it takes we will always remain on site to complete the work within the two-day shutdown period,” he said.
“This particular crew has worked together for several years and has a great deal of experience and expertise on this project and we are very proud of our high standards and unblemished safety record.”
Ford is very complimentary about the team’s performance.
“They are clearly very capable guys who work to a pre-agreed regime and timescale,” he continued. “For us, it’s very important to know that the project will be completed between certain dates, and they will extend their working hours or bring in extra people to make sure they hit the deadline, which they always do.”
In preparation for the task, the tank needs at least a week to cool down to allow safe access, and then the only way in is via a gantry at the top.
Before work starts, a gas monitor is used to test the air quality of the confined space and an air blower and hose set up to ventilate the chamber. Air quality results are recorded and posted next to the chamber opening, and the permit to work signed by the Grundon team.
The first task within the tank is to create a safe working platform to enable safe access to all surfaces within the tank.
The next is the removal of the accumulated bitumen deposits, some of which can be up to 150mm thick in places, from the tank walls. Over time, the bitumen becomes slightly rubberised, making removal even more difficult.
The team uses jackhammer tools driven by compressed air to tackle the problem, working under strict HAVS (hand-arm vibration syndrome) and health and safety regulations, which limit each person no more than four operating sessions of 45 minutes per day.
Stratton says: “At times, it feels a bit like coal mining and, because of the processes involved, the inside of the tank always remains very warm, which makes it even more challenging given the level of PPE required.
“Our team literally chisel away at the rubberised deposits to remove them and, once the sides are less contaminated, they revert to smaller detailing chisels to protect the integrity of the tank and dress it back to the bare metal.
“We then use chalk dust to dress the base of the tank, which can become very sticky, and the remaining softer bitumen is cut out. Any liquid is recovered into waste disposal containers before the cleaned surfaces are inspected by a site supervisor.”
All personnel entering the tank have to wear full PPE clothing, including a two-piece chemical resistant suit, gauntlet gloves, steel toe-capped boots, eye protection and breathing apparatus, as well as a continuous personal gas monitor which is attached to a recovery line on the body harness.
Special emergency procedures are also in place, ensuring that in the unlikely event of someone needing to escape they have the equipment to enable them to do so in a controlled fashion.
Constant close communication with team members on the outside ensures that if the individual inside became incapacitated for any reason, man recovery procedures would be put in place immediately.
Once the project has been finished and signed off by the client, Chase Protective Coatings employees have just one day to reinstall the motor and replace the missing paddles before the next delivery arrives.
For Ford, both meeting the deadline and ensuring the safe handover of the project is critical, and he concluded: “As the cleaning takes place during our closedown, there are very few of our staff on site.
“Because of that, it’s really important that that the site is left clean and tidy and in a very good condition and Grundon does that every time.”
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