Tripod overhead tanks need retiring

Rural landowners who still have tripod overhead fuel tanks in use are being encouraged to talk with their fuel distributors promptly to find an alternative way to meet their delivery needs.

The call comes after a fuel tanker driver sustained serious injuries on a farm earlier this year when a tripod overhead tank collapsed while the driver was filling it.

The specification for manufacturing tripod (three-legged) fuel tanks was withdrawn in 1996 by the Department of Labour (now WorkSafe) due to the structures not meeting design standards of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO) 1996 – so no new tanks could be constructed.

But tripod tank owners were permitted to continue using existing tanks until they reached the end of their working life – but many are still in use across rural NZ today despite them not meeting HSNO design standards, and Health and Safety at Work Regulations (Hazardous Substances) 2017 legislation.

Now New Zealand’s Fuel Distributers Industry Safety Committee is calling on people to retire their tripod tanks following a string of accidents involving fuel delivery personnel attempting to fill the tanks.

FDISC member Jonny Ireland says the last incident saw a tripod overhead tank collapse while a fuel tanker driver was filling it. “A leg collapsed under the driver and he fell back and landed on farm implements placed beside the tank. He sustained very serious injuries – and he’s not the first to do so. “Most distributors have experienced staff being hurt in some form of accident relating to these tanks.”

According to WorkSafe, the root cause of the collapse was significant corrosion (rust) on one of the tank legs – and farm implements close to the tank also contributed to the driver’s injuries.

“To fuel these above-ground tripod tanks, fuel delivery staff climb up a leg-ladder – if there is any weakness in the overall structure of those tripod tank legs, there is a risk to staff,” says Johnny. “Also, the footholds point upwards so if a person slips they can incur damage by catching clothing or limbs.”

Johnny says FDISC – made up of fuel distributor company members – has been actively working with WorkSafe to form a strategy to retire tripod tanks in NZ. It’s believed anywhere from hundreds to thousands of tripod tanks are still in use – and being filled – nationwide.

“Many tanks are aged over 50 years old – they are made of steel – and no matter how well they’ve been maintained, rust is going to take hold and could weaken the structure.”

Johnny says the fuel distribution industry’s focus in now on working with clients to encourage them to find alternative ways to store fuel, so they can retire tripod tanks.

“These tanks are well past modern design, and health and safety requirements of fuel tanks today. So all FDISC members are negotiating with customers, explaining the dangers of these tanks and giving them other options to receive fuel. And we’re doing this as an industry.”

Johhny says tripod tank owners are predominantly rural-based who purchased the equipment years ago when it was commonplace to have large quantities of fuel delivered to farms.

“They were cost-effective at the time and health and safety was looked at differently back then.”

And while familiarity and cost are barriers to retiring tanks, another is the supply of tanks. “This is why we’ve approached retirement over time, because there has to be enough tanks manufactured to replace them. Although a number of customers are elderly farmers, and some no longer need fuel delivered as they don’t have a big farming operation anymore. They can instead fuel up locally and pay via fuel card.”

Johnny says tripod overhead tank owners need to get in touch with their fuel distributors now to seek other fuel delivery options. “People need to look at this now rather than later. Because at some point fuel distributors may not be able to fill these tanks. We’d prefer to work with customers to find a solution.”

A WorkSafe spokesperson also warns that modifying tripod overhead fuel tanks is prohibited. This is because when a tank design has had its certification cancelled, it cannot be altered, reconditioned, relocated or on-sold for fuel storage.

“Any modifications that modify the original design will make the tank non-compliant. Worksafe is issuing prohibition notices on any tripod tank that has been found to be modified.”


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