Reducing the potential for accidents and the associated environmental impacts arising from road tankers transporting petro-chemical substances
De Villiers, Jonathan Izak
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Petroleum products, which are required to keep the 'wheels' of industry and commerce turning, are distributed from the various refineries to their destinations throughout the country on a daily basis and the mode and extent of transportation or conveyance of these products is varied. This distribution activity predominantly takes place by means of road tanker, pipeline as well as rail tanker and quantities during transit could vary from a few hundred litres to many thousands of litres per trip. Road tanker transportation is considered to be the most vulnerable form of distribution means and this poses a high risk in terms of the potential for being involved in an accident. The risk potential associated with the road transportation of these fuels, from an environmental point of view, is aggravated due to: *The conveyance of bulk loads, *non-roadworthiness of many vehicles, *inconsistency in vehicle condition checking systems and in the application of *safety systems, *poor road conditions, *driver fatigue, *hi-jacking threats, *the level of incompetence or unsuitability of drivers, *the inconsistency in driver training programs, *the vulnerability of the tankers being subject to collision and accidents. The potential exists for road tankers involved in accidents to leak or spill large quantities of petroleum products which in turn could result in catastrophic environmental consequences (such as leaking large quantities of fuel into sewers, plantations, rivers and streams thus causing much ground and water pollution). Also, during an accident the fuel leaking from a road tanker may ignite causing it to burn for several hours before it is finally brought under control and extinguished. This may result in much air pollution as well as damage to the surrounding ecological systems. Subsequent explosions could further result in severe loss of life and associated fires which in turn could cause more environmental degradation and damage. For the purpose of this dissertation, focus was specifically placed on the introduction of internal company control measures that a "supplier” company (such as Natref (Pty) Ltd) could implement to check whether petroleum product distributors are complying with predetermined criteria aimed at reducing the potential for accidents involving road tankers. The measuring of how these controls have an effect in the bigger scheme of things in terms of reducing accidents and environmental degradation was very difficult to determine because it was not possible to extract from the distributors how many of their vehicles were actually involved in incidents during the study period. As a result it was not possible to determine whether the improved control measures had an effect on the number of accidents incurred by the vehicles that were effected by the improved application of the standards. The study thus focused primarily on the effect that the implementation of an inspection system could have in progressively reducing the number of defects found on road tankers wanting to gain access to Natrefs site as well as measuring whether an improvement in compliance to standards actually took place. This study was conducted over a period of 22 months and involved the development and implementation of a new procedure and training course, implementation of an inspection checklist, improved reporting methods as well as improved the overall environmental awareness of the employees involved in the checking and inspection process. It is however assumed that the implementation and ongoing enforcement of the company standards has assisted in contributing towards minimising the potential for pollution exposures arising from accidents and in so doing minimising environmental degradation to a larger or lesser extent.