Hydraulic fracturing sites are dangerous places that require tight safety controls. The environment is full of potential hazards for workers. This list includes air quality threats, a major one of which is silica dust causing silicosis (lung disease caused by dust inhalation). Pulmonary issues caused by dust inhalation is perhaps the oldest known workplace hazard.
The Ancient Greeks and Romans were the first known group to recognize pulmonary problems caused by breathing dust1. In the mid-16th century, Italian miners developed lung issues working in dusty, unventilated conditions2. In 1713, asthmatic symptoms were documented as prevalent amongst stone cutters3. Then the Industrial Revolution hit and the plight of workers inhaling dust for long periods of time only increased in frequency and documentation4. This makes silicosis perhaps the longest-documented occupational safety hazard in existence.
The first laws setting limits on environmental dust levels for workers were during the Industrial Revolution5. In 2013, 46,000 people died of silicosis6, making it a major policy area for OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration)7.
The potential for dust-creation in workplaces is almost endless, and the type of dust is as varied as the locations themselves. Manufacturing facilities, logging and lumber, construction, and of course, mining and oil and gas sites all require dust control.
Hydraulic fracturing sites have huge amounts of silica dust because silica sand is used during the fracking process. Frequent transportation of the sand through sand movers, along transfer belts and into blender hoppers create opportunities for exposure8. The environment is highly regulated and needs to be tightly controlled. Not only are workers threatened if not, but OHSA claims from workers can exclude companies from project bids.
Reliable equipment that meets or exceeds OSHA requirements is a vital investment.
Jeff Horton designs and manufactures dust collecting systems for hydraulic fracturing sites. He is the owner and general manager at Quality Product Solutions. The Dust-Pro Collection Series of mobile dust collection systems can be found on fracking sites across North America.
“These machines have to function at a level where they can take a lot of abuse,” he says. “The work they do keep people healthy and safe, so breakdowns must be mitigated as much as possible.”
As Horton says, the stakes are high. The health of workers and the bottom line of the company rely on them. When a breakdown occurs, production time onsite is lost and that is unacceptable.
So, when Horton discovered the systems were breaking down due to the reciprocating compressors they were originally equipped with, he immediately started looking for more reliable alternatives.
His research led him to VMAC, where he found a company with a reputation of manufacturing rotary screw compressors that perform in challenging environments around the world. It seemed like good fit. He needed a company willing to put their money where their mouth is and create something that would easily handle large amounts of dust, run reliably without failures, and provide a higher duty cycle than the current reciprocating compressor system.
Development of the system went well and took very little time.
“We needed good engineers. That was key to developing the system we needed,” Horton says. “The engineering team we worked with was great. What impressed us most was their willingness to do whatever it took to get the job done.”
The result was a 40 CFM and 120 psi, 100% duty cycle rotary screw compressor with a tank. Changing the air compressor to a VMAC rotary screw turned Horton’s state-of-the-art dust collection unit into something that had a compressor to match the rest of the design.
“It became turn-on-and-go,” he said. “No more time spent waiting for tanks to fill.”
The challenges of overheating and dust build-up failures were basically eliminated with the rotary screw compressor.
“We really don’t see any issues related to the air compressor these days,” Horton says. “Our end-users are happy with the systems.”
For Horton, it was one less component he and his team have to worry about. When designing and manufacturing such important equipment responsible for preserving workers’ health, he knows the air compressor meets all regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency and OSHA his equipment has to comply with, and will function properly on each system.
“One less thing to worry about makes my life that much easier,” Horton says.
Horton and his team of 17 employees sell about 70 systems each year, and the systems generally last years, so they provide a lot of protection over their lifetime.
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