Pretty scary headline, isn’t it? Unfortunately, it is also true. On Friday, July 18, Joseph Gray fell into a 7,000-gal zinc-cyanide plating tank at Mid-City Plating in Muncie, Indiana. Mr. Gray fell head first into the tank as he attempted to refill the anode baskets. Platers across the country refill anode baskets daily; it is a routine task. What Mr. Gray failed to do, as he stood on plywood “catwalk” spanning the tank, was wear a safety belt (against the company safety policy).
His co-worker, Ron Jennings, was next to him on the rail-less three-ft-wide platform and immediately grabbed him from the tank and put him under the emergency shower. Mr. Jennings said that he doesn’t think that a safety belt would have saved Mr. Gray. Mr. Gray was conscious and talking to his coworkers while under the shower; however, he soon lost consciousness and never recovered.
According to OSHA’s Occupational Safety and Health Guideline for Hydrogen Cyanide (www.osha.gov/SLTC/healthguidelines/hydrogencyanide/recognition.html), hydrogen cyanide can cause rapid death due to metabolic asphyxiation. Death can occur within seconds or minutes of inhalation of high concentrations because it deprives your heart and circulatory system of oxygen.
If hydrogen cyanide gets on the skin, it may have little or no irritating effect; the danger occurs when it is absorbed through the skin. When handling this solution, workers should always wear gloves, aprons and safety glasses. Never be nonchalant in your handling of this or any finishing solution.
Safety. It is so often taken for granted. I’m reminded of another tragedy involving cyanide-plating tanks that happened in Auburn, Indiana in 1988. My first story for Products Finishing involved a tragedy at Bastian Plating Company. It appeared in the September 1988 issue. Bastian was in the process of converting from cyanide-zinc to non-cyanide zinc. A laborer, Jeffrey Lind, 25, entered the tank to clean out what was left after the tank had been pumped out and washed down. Instead of using sodium hypochlorite to clean the tank walls, he mistakenly used hydrochloric acid, thus generating hydrogen cyanide gas. Mr. Link was overcome, as were four more workers who tried to rescue him. Four were declared dead on the scene and one died two days later. None of the five was wearing a breathing device, nor were any of them wearing safety belts so that they could have been quickly lifted from the tank.
Finishing companies put a lot of effort into emergency and safety training. They take hours of production and spend it on this type of training because they realize how valuable it is. But none of it really matters if workers do not use what they have learned. Sure, it may require a few extra minutes to strap on a safety harness or put on a respirator, and they may be a bit uncomfortable, but it is worth it. You cannot predict an accident. It is better to lose a few minutes preparing yourself than to lose your life.