If you are responsible for safety in a facility that stores items in steel hoppers, there are a few important things to understand regarding the hazards of the large containers. Knowing what types of accidents could happen is the first step in preventing them from occurring. That way, you can foresee what types of alterations need to be done to the hoppers as well as the equipment around them.
Here are a few examples of accidents that can happen in hoppers along with how to prevent them from occurring in your facility whether you are installing new hoppers or retrofitting existing ones.
Workers falling in from the top
Workers can fall into a hopper while they are working on equipment or inspecting the contents inside the containers. In fact, a worker in Pennsylvania fell into a sugar hopper and suffocated to death. Due to the funnel-like design, the contents inside hoppers can act like quicksand when something (or someone) of greater weight gets inside the hopper. That means that someone who falls into a hopper will not be able to crawl their way out of the top, even if the hopper is full.
New container design: Tell your steel fabricator that you would like to incorporate safety guardrails at the tops of the hoppers to prevent workers from falling into them. It's also a good idea to incorporate steel walkways with guardrails over the containers, particularly large ones that need traversed on a regular basis.
Old container retrofit: The steel fabricator can weld guardrails and walkways directly onto the sides of the existing hoppers and bins in your facility. The one crucial thing to understand here is that it may be necessary to remove the contents of the hoppers prior to welding the pieces together. The heat created by the welding equipment can melt contents inside the containers.
Helpful tip: For delivery of the containers and/or components, you'll want to be sure to have a large enough opening for all the design elements to go through. If not, the steel fabricator will need to complete the job in your facility. Should this be necessary, inform your steel fabricator of the various fuels and other hazardous materials that are in your facility due to the heat created by the welding equipment.
Workers crushed underneath
Hoppers are designed to use gravity to remove contents from the hoppers at the bottom. Workers that are underneath the hoppers can get crushed and injured if the hoppers are opened and the evacuating contents are not under control, which can happen when there are clumps in the contents. The force of the spill can quickly engulf a person and cause them to suffocate.
New container design: Moisture problems inside the hoppers can cause the contents to clump together. Have the steel fabricator install rotary mixers at the bottom of the hoppers that will be used to contain materials that may clump when moist. A rotary mixer will remove the clumps from the contents so the contents can continue through the bottom of the hopper safely.
Old container retrofit: If you would like to retrofit an existing hopper with a rotary mixer, a steel fabricator can create one for you and install it at the bottom of the chute opening. However, this may mean that the hopper may need to be raised to accommodate for the additional structure at the bottom of the hopper. Fortunately, the steel fabricator will be able to extend the legs of the hopper for this accommodation.
Helpful tip: Prevent moisture problems inside hoppers with the use of desiccant dryers that are designed specifically for hoppers. Your steel fabricator can permanently attach these devices to your hoppers if you choose.