Drums Handling

The purpose of handling is to (1) respond to any obvious problems that might impair worker safety, such as radioactivity, leakage, or the presence of explosive substances, (2) unstack and orient drums for sampling, and (3) if necessary, to organize drums into different areas on site to facilitate characterization and remedial action. Handling may or may not be necessary, depending on how the drums are positioned at a site.

Since accidents occur frequently during handling, particularly initial handling, drums should only be handled if necessary.

Prior to handling, all personnel should be warned about the hazards of handling, and instructed to minimize handling as much as possible and to avoid unnecessary handling. In all phases of handling, personnel should be alert for new information about potential hazards. These hazards should be responded to before continuing with more routine handling operations.

Overpack drums (larger drums in which leaking or damaged drums are placed for storage or shipment and an adequate volume of absorbent should be kept near areas where minor spills may occur. Where major spills may occur, a containment berm adequate to contain the entire volume of liquid in the drums should be constructed before any handling takes place.

If the drum contents spill, personnel trained in spill response should be used to isolate and contain the spill.

Several types of equipment can be used to move drums: (1) A drum grappler attached to a hydraulic excavator; (2) a small front-end loader, which can be either loaded manually or equipped with a bucket sling; (3) a rough terrain forklift; (4) a roller conveyor equipped with solid rollers; and (5) drum carts designed specifically for drum handling. Drums are also sometimes moved manually. The drum grappler is the preferred piece of equipment for drum handling. It keeps the operator removed from the drums so that there is less likelihood of injury if the drums detonate or rupture. If a drum is leaking, the operator can stop the leak by rotating the drum and immediately placing it into an overpack. In case of an explosion, grappler claws help protect the operator by partially deflecting the force of the explosion.

The following procedures can be used to maximize worker safety during drum handling and movement:

  • Train personnel in proper lifting and moving techniques to prevent back injuries.
  • Make sure the vehicle selected has sufficient rated load capacity to handle the anticipated loads, and make sure the vehicle can operate smoothly on the available road surface.
  • Air condition the cabs of vehicles to increase operator efficiency; protect the operator with heavy splash shields.
  • Supply operators with appropriate respiratory protective equipment when needed. Normally either a combination SCBA/SAR with the air tank fastened to the vehicle, or an airline respirator and an escape SCBA are used because of the high potential hazards of drum handling. This improves operator efficiency and provides protection in case the operator must abandon the equipment.
  • Have overpacks ready before any attempt is made to move drums.
  • Before moving anything, determine the most appropriate sequence in which the various drums and other containers should be moved. For example, small containers may have to be removed first to permit heavy equipment to enter and move the drums.
  • Exercise extreme caution in handling drums that are not intact and tightly sealed.
  • Ensure that operators have a clear view of the roadway when carrying drums. Where necessary, have ground workers available to guide the operator's motion.

Drums Containing Radioactive Waste

If the drum exhibits radiation levels above background (see Table 6-2) immediately contact a health physicist. Do not handle any drums that are determined to be radioactive until persons with expertise in this area have been consulted.

Drums that May Contain Explosive or Shock-Sensitive Waste

  • If a drum is suspected to contain explosive or shock-sensitive waste as determined by visual inspection, seek specialized assistance before any handling.
  • If handling is necessary, handle these drums with extreme caution.
  • Prior to handling these drums, make sure all nonessential personnel have moved a safe distance away.
  • Use a grappler unit constructed for explosive containment for initial handling of such drums.
  • Palletize the drums prior to transport. Secure drums to pallets.
  • Use an audible siren signal system, similar to that employed in conventional blasting operations, to signal the commencement and completion of explosive waste handling activities.
  • Maintain continuous communication with the Site Safety Officer and/or the command post until drum handling operations are complete. 11-6

Bulging Drums

  • Pressurized drums are extremely hazardous. Wherever possible, do not move drums that may be under internal pressure, as evidenced by bulging or swelling.
  • If a pressurized drum has to be moved, whenever possible handle the drum with a grappler unit constructed for explosive containment. Either move the bulged drum only as far as necessary to allow seating on firm ground, or carefully overpack the drum. Exercise extreme caution when working with or adjacent to potentially pressurized drums.

Drums Containing Packaged Laboratory Wastes (Lab Packs)

Laboratory packs (i.e., drums containing individual containers of laboratory materials normally surrounded by cushioning absorbent material) can be an ignition source for fires at hazardous waste sites. They sometimes contain shock-sensitive materials. Such containers should be considered to hold explosive or shock-sensitive wastes until otherwise characterized. If handling is required, the following precautions are among those that should be taken:

  • Prior to handling or transporting lab packs, make sure all non-essential personnel have moved a safe distance away.
  • Whenever possible, use a grappler unit constructed for explosive containment for initial handling of such drums.
  • Maintain continuous communication with the Site Safety Officer and/or the command post until handling operations are complete.
  • Once a lab pack has been opened, have a chemist inspect, classify, and segregate the bottles within it, without opening them, according to the hazards of the wastes. An example of a system for classifying lab pack wastes is provided in Table 11-3. The objective of a classification system is to ensure safe segregation of the lab packs' contents. Pack these bottles with sufficient cushioning and absorption materials to prevent excessive movement of the bottles and to absorb all free liquids, and ship them to an approved disposal facility.
  • If crystalline material is noted at the neck of any bottle, handle it as a shock-sensitive waste, due to the potential presence of picric acid or other similar material, and get expert advice before attempting to handle it.
  • Palletize the repacked drums prior to transport. Secure the drums to pallets.

Leaking, Open, and Deteriorated Drums

  • If a drum containing a liquid cannot be moved without rupture, immediately transfer its contents to a sound drum using a pump designed for transferring that liquid.
  • Using a drum grappler, place immediately in overpack containers:
  • Leaking drums that contain sludges or semi-solids.
  • Open drums that contain liquid or solid waste.
  • Deteriorated drums that can be moved without rupture.

Buried Drums

  • Prior to initiating subsurface excavation, use ground penetrating systems to estimate the location and depth of the drums (see Inspection in this chapter).
  • Remove soil with great caution to minimize the potential for drum rupture.
  • Have a dry chemical fire extinguisher on hand to control small fires.


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