Last week, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board announced that it had concluded a fatal explosion at an Illinois manufacturing facility in 2009 was ultimately caused by unnoticed cracking due to corrosion at the facility. A high temperature tank exploded, killing one nearby technician. An employee standing over 200 yards away was struck by a flying piece of steel and severely injured as well. An investigation after the accident found that the tank had been slowly cracking over time due to improper protection inside the vessel. The company that owned the plant thought the material inside the tank would create a protective layer and did not perform inspections to confirm that no corrosion was taking place.
Corrosion, or the process wherein metal, steel, or alloy is slowly destroyed through oxidization or chemical action, is a lurking danger in many industrial settings. From oil rigs and refineries to water treatment plants and factories, any facility where steel is present in a non-controlled environment is a location vulnerable to an accident like the one listed above. Any metal or steel structure that comes in contact with outdoor elements, humidity, or liquids at any time is at risk of corrosion.
Do you think about corrosion prevention when painting metal or steel substrates? You certainly should be doing so as protecting the substrate is the most important functional result of your paint work in these cases. At a minimum you or your team should be confirming with the client that they have a strategy in place for corrosion prevention. Fortunately, protecting materials from rust or corrosion is not complicated and expensive as long as the process is addressed early on. Many paints and coatings are formulated to protect the substrate from corrosion. Furthermore, some are designed to flake off entirely in the event of corrosive activity underneath them.
Applying a coating of the correct paint at the correct thickness can provide years of continued protection to a structure even if it is exposed to the harshest elements. Always have a discussion with your client, because corrosion prevention isn’t limited to just paint. Corrosion prevention and rust protection can be accomplished with powder coatings and epoxies, but also with certain types of plating (tin, zinc, or nickel) and cathodic protection. As a result, the burden of a substrate protection strategy should not fall on the paint professional alone.
So why is it important to discuss corrosion with your client at all? Simple: the first visual symptom of a corrosion or rust problem is likely to be the physical appearance of the paint. And since you applied the paint, a client uneducated on corrosion is likely to call you and determine it to be your problem to fix. There have even been some cases where an accident has occurred and the client tried to pass the blame – and financial responsibility – to the painter who had painted the rusted out machinery.
Asking your client what protective measures they are putting in place to protect against corrosion is in both of your best interests. As an added benefit, if they had not considered how they were going to properly protect their equipment, there might be an opportunity for you to expand the size of the paint job you are about to perform; adding a protective powder coating before painting the surface can be more profitable for you or your company!
Preventing corrosion in the workplace has never been easier. But waiting to address corrosion until there is a problem can be costly and, more importantly, deadly. Click here to see some of the products manufactured by BYK to help the professional painter properly address substrate protection and corrosion prevention.