Tanker company challenges FMCSA out-of-service order

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | 9/17/2014

A Nevada motor carrier has petitioned for a review of an August out-of-service order that brought the company’s tanker fleet to a halt.

National Distribution Services Inc. has filed a petition for review with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Chief Safety Officer. The company leases a fleet of cargo tank motor vehicles, which are used to transport combustible liquids, primarily petroleum products.

The out-of-service order was issued Aug. 14 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, following an investigation into a May 6 cargo tank explosion that occurred at National’s terminal in Corona, California. The explosion killed one mechanic and injured another. The agency claimed in the initial order that at least 35 of the 53 tanks owned, leased or operated by the company have not been inspected or tested as required by federal regulations.

An FMCSA spokesman declined to comment beyond the formal responses the agency has filed in the Federal Register.

According to the FMCSA’s response to the review petition, the May 6 explosion occurred when two welders at National’s Corona Facility were installing a new dome lid collar on a cargo tank. The tank had not been cleaned and purged prior to the work commencing, causing vapors to ignite. The resulting explosion blew both welders off the tank.

After a two-month investigation, FMCSA issued the out-of-service order against National, and also named TankServices LLC, and Carl Johansson, an administrative manager for National.

“While Petitioners argue that the repair work was being conducted by TankServices LLC and its employees, the evidence clearly demonstrates that TankServices LLC was a paycheck writing service to National and Johansson, and the unsafe and unauthorized repair work was being completed in National’s Corona facility shop, by National’s shop workers, using National’s welding equipment, and installing parts purchased by National; in fact, the paycheck for the week including May 6, 2014, for the injured welder shows the welder being paid by National,” the FMCSA wrote in a Sept. 8 response to the petition.

The agency further alleges that investigators found at least 11 tanks had undergone welded repairs on the shells and heads, which did not take place at properly registered repair facility.

“National has been conducting unauthorized welds on DOT specification cargo tanks used to transport hazardous materials without safety management controls, adequate safety controls or procedures have been put in place to ensure that the cargo tanks are properly cleaned and purged before repairs are made,” the agency response stated. “Such operations present a substantial risk of additional incidents, including catastrophic incidents, resulting in death, severe personal injury, or endangerment to health, property, or the environment.”

But an attorney for National disputes the agency’s investigative findings and says the scope of the stop order should not include Johansson, National or the company’s tankers.

Attorney Timothy Wiseman’s petition also states that there was no common ownership between National and TankServices, “nor did anyone associated with National control, direct or supervise the maintenance work conducted by TankServices.”

“The only connection between the two companies is that TankServices utilized space in a facility that National rented to perform its services for National and other entities, and that National did, in the past, utilize TankServices to perform maintenance and inspections on its equipment,” he said.

Wiseman did not respond to a request for comment.

National’s response also disputed a reported out-of-service order issued July 14 for a tanker during a roadside inspection in California. The company filed a DataQ challenge with FMCSA, which shows that on Sept. 7, a correction was made to the July 14 violation, indicating the violation was assigned to the wrong carrier.

The petition, as well as supporting documents and responses from the company’s attorney and from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, is posted online at the Federal Registry website. The documents may be viewed for free here.

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