In the past, it was common practice for overall-wearing food plant workers to climb into large production tanks with hoses, brooms, spray nozzles, scrapers and the like, and sanitize them between production runs. The industry term for this was “confined space entry.”
Although this scenario still occurs, most modern food plants now use the latest automated spraying and washing technology. And there are many systems available — mainly spray balls and advanced stationary nozzles — to meet every possible need.
The risks associated with confined-space entry center on spray rods that spurt water at 2,000 to 2,500 psi, creating a dangerous situation for workers stationed close to the surface they’re trying to clean. Sharp agitators at the bottom of large tanks can also cause injury if workers step or fall on them.
Because of these risks, government rules — including those enacted by the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and under that country’s OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Act) — require that at least three people be engaged in any confined-space cleaning operation: one to operate the pump, another to stand at the entrance to the tank and the third to get inside and perform the cleaning.
Another manual method of cleaning tanks is called a “boil out” — akin to using boiling water to clean a heavily soiled pot in the kitchen. Hot water is combined with caustics and circulated for a full eight-hour shift. It is an inefficient and time-consuming process, however, especially if the cleaning process has to be repeated.