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Turning Off Disaster – Avoiding Catastrophe with Simple Solutions

Eric Schmitz /
  • Categories: EHS

Article Contributor: Eric Schmitz

Accidents in the workplace have always plagued businesses. Some might say accidents are inevitable, but usually, even the most serious catastrophes have a simple preventable solution. Unfortunately, minor neglect does not only lead to minor problems. Sometimes the most disastrous events occur as a result of something as simple as overlooking a step on the checklist or leaving a tool on when closing down the dealership in the evening.

Let’s look at a real-life example: it’s late on a Friday afternoon and all of the employees at a dealership are eager to leave for the night. Before leaving the facility, the last employee shuts off the lights, but neglects to turn off the air compressor or isolate the pressurized air lines.  These airlines are connected to a 5,000 gallon used oil tank with an on demand pump sitting in the corner. This is a common mistake; because the compressor only appears to be on when you hear it running, many dealers just forget about it.

However, there are some additional variables that turn this into a catastrophic situation. The used oil tank is connected to a series of used oil burners with float switches that can request oil from the 5,000 gallon used oil tank. A vent system runs through this same system and to the roof of the building to off-gas any excess fumes. Over the weekend a float valve on one of the waste oil burners fails and calls for additional used oil to be transferred to the used oil burner system.  The burner itself is off though, and the oil being delivered has no place to go – so the plumbing used to vent excess fumes now acts as a vehicle for the oil to be pumped by the air compressor from the 5,000 gallon tank, up to the roof, where it pours into a downspout, off the side of the building into the nearby river.

The following morning, the manager arrives at the facility to realize the 5,000 gallon tank has been pumping used motor oil through the vent system up to the roof and into the nearby river at a rate of 15 gallons an hour for 20 straight hours. The cleanup will be intense, EPA citations will be administered, news may be involved, and the damage to a business’s reputation could be irrevocable.

The good news is, even a problem this serious has a simple and easy solution. Before leaving for the day, simply isolate the facility’s air lines from the compressor or turn off the compressor entirely and bleed the pressure from the airlines.

The moral of the story is simple; sometimes little acts can make a big difference to your dealership, the environment, and your business’ future. By taking some simple precautionary steps, this dealership could have avoided an environmental nightmare. Ensuring that each tool is completely turned off at the end of each business day could save a dealership countless time and money.

Do you have questions about what you should be doing prior to leaving the dealership every day? Contact

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