Lube Safety Comes In Threes
Ken Bannister | May 16, 2018
A complete lubrication-safety program involves a thorough analysis and proper implementation of purchasing, use, and disposal practices.
Part of any best-practice lubrication-management program is the proactive minimization of any and all associated safety risks surrounding the purchase, use, and disposal of lubricants. This approach breaks lubrication management down into three distinct stages that guide the development of an effective plan to ensure safe lubrication practices within any plant environment.
If you were asked how many different brands and formulations of lubricants (oil, grease, paste, solvent, kerosene, gasoline) are currently carried in open and unopened states within your plant, would you be able to produce a list within minutes? If you answered yes, are you then able to produce an up-to-date Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for each lubrication product in the plant?
It is very likely that some of the lubricants and fluids found in a plant are no longer in use but have never been managed and disposed of properly. Lubricants are brought into an uncontrolled plant in many ways, most typically on the advice of the machine-manufacturer’s representative, a local oil blender’s trial recommendation, or an exuberant purchasing agent buying the lowest-cost alternative. This type of pattern can lead to acquiring lubricants that may be toxic, poisonous, corrosive, or even carcinogenic—all requiring special storage and handling techniques and personal-protection equipment. Because we are able to purchase many similar lubricant products in any local hardware or automotive store, we can be easily lulled into a sense that all lubricants are safe to handle. This is not always the case.
To mitigate risk associated with unknown or suspect lubricants and fluids, a lubricant/fluid-consolidation process is highly recommended. The process requires that all lubricants and substances be listed and their uses documented (if known). A lubrication supplier or manufacturer can then be brought in to cross reference and replace existing products with lubricants that are safer to handle, use, and dispose. This process not only drastically reduces the amount of lubricant SKUs tracked within a plant, it puts in place a control system that confines all lubricant purchases to an approved list. Toxicology is managed alongside up-to-date SDS documents that spell out how each product is to be stored, handled, used, and disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner.
When handling and using lubricants, personal injuries can occur if common sense is not part of the process. Many lubricants are delivered and stored in 55-gal. drums that can weigh in excess of 400 lb. Drums are not easily handled and back strain is common when trying to manually move one of them. If a forklift is used, great care must be taken to ensure the drum is positioned and/or secured correctly so it can’t fall off in mid air and cause injury from collision or explosion on impact. Where oils are purchased in bulk, explore using totes that are filled on site. They are sturdy and can be placed in a permanent location one time only, eliminating the need to rotate and move drum stock. For grease, consider buying smaller 5-gal. pails. They are easily transported on lube trucks and the relatively small container assures the grease stays fresh.
Lubrication activities require a technician to fill machine-lubricant reservoirs, swap out breathers, change filters, take oil samples, and often manually apply lubricants directly to machine bearings with a grease or oil gun under pressure. If the lubrication function cannot be performed without dismantling or entering through a machine’s envelope perimeter, or removing guards to gain access to bearing points, always perform lockout/tagout (LOTO) procedures before starting work. While it may seem inherently safe to perform perimeter-based lubrication, in which all bearings, fill ports, and lube points are accessible outside of the moving danger zone, exercise extreme caution, focusing full attention on the job at hand. In other words, respect the machine at all times.
Of course, the basics must always be covered. These include using eye protection (glasses or goggles, depending on whether the product splashes easily); safety boots with oil-resistant soles; long-sleeve, close-fitting coveralls that are cleaned regularly; hardhat; and gloves to protect the skin from dermatological rashes and high-pressure injection hazards.
Grease systems reach and sustain high line pressures to move the lubricant into place. On 150-psi plant air, a simple 40:1 air-operated drum pump can deliver pressures well in excess of 5,000 psi. Pressures at that level can inject lubricant through the skin into the body if the pump is triggered while accidentally touching the end of the grease-gun nozzle.
Hand grease guns can generate pressures as high as 15,000 psi. Never horseplay with greasing equipment and, no matter how tempting, never try to plug a pressure leak with a finger.
In situations that require the technician to enter a pit or confined space, a permit is required, along with an oxygen “sniffer” instrument. If setting up oil-misting systems, always wear the correct respirator to protect from vapor inhalation.
Should lubricant be inhaled or swallowed, follow the SDS instructions. If a lubricant is injected, seek immediate medical attention. If lubricant gets in an eye, use the eyewash station and refer to the SDS for further instructions.
When a lubricant is spilled, it is immediately contaminated and must be disposed of according to the local and state legislative requirements. When storing lubricants, label waste oil and keep each waste oil separate. Oils may contain other fluids that can cause unknown chemical reactions, endangering humans and/or the environment.
Always make sure fluids are stored in an enclosed pad, surrounded by a berm, so no lubricant is released to the ground and possibly into a nearby water aquifer. Keep all oily rags and open containers in a fireproof cabinet. Do not keep paint or linseed-oil rags in containers, as they could spontaneously combust, causing a flash fire.
Finally, to ensure personnel all follow the same safety practices, take the time to build a safety document for training purposes centered on this three-part approach to lubrication safety. EP
Contributing editor Ken Bannister is co-author, with Heinz Bloch, of the book Practical Lubrication for Industrial Facilities, 3rd Edition (The Fairmont Press, Lilburn, GA). As managing partner and principal consultant for Engtech Industries Inc., Innerkip, Ontario, he specializes in the implementation of lubrication-effectiveness reviews to ISO 55001 standards, asset-management systems, and training. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or telephone 519-469-9173.