Re: chemical hoods (and other dangerous practices)

Subject: Re: chemical hoods (and other dangerous practices)
From: Win Day <winday -at- IDIRECT -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 1 Apr 1996 16:22:19 -0500

Misunderstanding labels, unclear safety warnings, doing stupid things with
dangerous materials -- these are some of the things that drove me into tech
writing. One example:

I worked in a refinery overseas, where English was the language required in
the plant but was NOT the first language of most of the workers. Many
operators started in the plant when they were 14, after completing about a
Grade 6 education by our standards.

During one reactor shutdown, refinery management decided to try recycling
the catalyst (actually, sending it back to the manufacturer for metals
recovery). Returning spent catalyst allowed the plant to SAVE about $1.5
million US per reactor.

Usually, when catalyst was dumped, the operators immediately sprayed it with
water because it was hot. But since the manufacturers wouldn't take it back
if it was wet, we didn't spray it this time.

What the operators didn't realize was that the catclyst was also pyrophoric
-- it would burn upon exposure to air. The original drums were so marked --
in English; since we were re-using the marked drums, management assumed
everything was OK. After all, they'd warned the operators, right?

I will never forget the sight of four operators dancing on top of a pile of
catalyst, shovelling it into empty barrels as fast as they could before the
soles of their shoes caught fire.

Win Day
Technical Writer/Editor
Email: winday -at- idirect -dot- com

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