This article will explore the current methods used to provide static grounding protection for vehicles operating in locations that do not have installed, or correctly specified, static ground monitoring systems. Although primarily designed to provide all trucks with mobile static ground verification capability, the Earth-Rite® MGV has proven to be a success for vacuum trucks used by contractors providing cleaning, spill and material recovery services to companies with classified hazardous areas. The MGV is also utilised on trucks that must collect from, or deliver product to, locations that do not have satisfactory static grounding protection for tank trucks in place.
Vacuum trucks provide a wide range of services to the hazardous process industries ranging from tank farm cleaning to the recovery of combustible materials resulting from leaks and spills. A key feature of this type of service is the recovery of materials in locations with potentially combustible atmospheres.
Static electricity is a well known ignition source within the hazardous process industries and because the generation and accumulation of static electricity is not visible to the naked eye, this “below the radar” characteristic, makes it an exceptionally precarious and dangerous hazard. Normally, the only evidence of static electricity being present during a transfer operation is when somebody sees or hears a static spark discharge. By then it may be too late to prevent the ignition of the surrounding atmosphere if it is in its combustible range.
Grounding vacuum trucks operating in hazardous areas eliminates the threat posed by static electricity and is an action that effectively connects the truck to the general mass of the Earth, which is sometimes called a “True earth ground”. The voltage induced on the truck by the charged material is the key factor in a static spark discharge. Grounding ensures that no voltages are generated and permitted to accumulate on the truck.
A solution that is appropriate to the potential hazard
For over twenty years dedicated static ground monitoring systems have replaced basic grounding reels on the tank truck loading racks of petrochemical and chemical sites, pharmaceutical sites, tank farms and food and beverage manufacturing sites. Due to the combination of the large quantities of combustible material being processed, the amount of charge that can be induced on trucks and the potential outcome of the ignition of the atmosphere, bonding reels were replaced with ground monitoring systems that were designed to monitor the integrity of the tank truck’s connection to ground so that electrostatic charge could not accumulate on the tank or chassis of the tank truck while product was being transferred. To enhance the safety of transfers at these locations, rack mounted ground monitoring systems normally have an interlock function that stops the movement of product if the grounding system is disconnected from the tank truck.
Even though the potential and consequences of fires is, at the very least, the same for tank trucks at dedicated loading racks, vacuum truck service providers have not been in a position to provide this level of safety and protection of their personnel and trucks, or for their customer’s personnel and property.
Until now, vacuum truck service providers have had to rely on very basic devices to ground their vehicles. This is simply because technology that is capable of verifying the quality of static grounding points in a mobile, quick and user-friendly way has not been available to drivers and operators. The method currently used consists of a simple grounding clamp attached to single pole braided cable wound onto a reel.
Very often, vacuuming operations will be carried out on facilities and remote locations where “designated” grounding points may not be tested on a regular basis, are not accessible or do not exist. (More detail on grounding points is provided at the end of this article). Bulk transportation companies can also have the same difficulties when they deliver product to customer sites where grounding systems are not up to current specifications, or worse still, are not installed.
When compared to the performance and safety of static ground monitoring systems, single pole bonding reels have several major drawbacks.
- Bonding reels cannot inform the driver that the clamp has penetrated through potential resistors to the flow of static electricity. Rust and paints coatings can prevent clamps from making a solid, low resistance connection to the metal of the object performing the grounding function.
- Bonding reels cannot monitor the truck’s connection to the grounding point for the duration of the transfer process. If the clamp’s connection to the grounding point is compromised, the drivers and operators will have no way of knowing this as they will be concerned with the safe and secure transfer of material.
- When the driver needs to connect the reel to secondary grounding points (e.g. pipe or structural support beam), the bonding reel cannot verify that the grounding point actually has a verifiable connection to a True earth ground.
- On many customer sites electricians are required to perform resistance readings with multi-meters to verify that the truck has a 10 ohm or less bonded connection to a designated grounding point, via the bonding reel. This method has several major drawbacks.
- The electrician needs to be taken off maintenance, repair and installation work to perform this test and may be delayed, even up to a few hours, in performing the resistance check. This has the knock on effect of delaying the vacuum truck team in proceeding with the cleaning, spill recovery or truck offloading operation.
- In an emergency situation, like a spill or leak, the vacuum truck team may not have time to wait for an electrician to conduct a bond resistance test and will have to bond the truck to points that have not been designated as verified grounding points. In that situation, they will be hoping that the object they have bonded to will have a connection to a True earth ground.
- The resistance check is a one-time bond resistance check between the points the truck is connected to. It does not verify if the structure the reel is connected to has a connection to a True earth ground.
- Because the resistance check is a one-time check, the drivers will not know if the clamp’s connection is compromised during the transfer.
Unlike the security provided to tank truck drivers and loading rack operators by rack mounted ground monitoring systems, the vacuum truck team running the recovery or transfer operation has no way of knowing if their truck is connected to a good ground.
Service providers, and customers, have concerns due to such limitations because the teams are connecting reels to grounding points that have neither been tested nor verified as being connected to a True earth ground.
In order to remove this uncertainty and provide vacuum truck service providers with the same level of protection that rack mounted static ground monitoring systems provide, Newson Gale developed the Earth Rite MGV, which is a vehicle mounted static grounding verification system. MGV stands for Mobile Ground Verification.