Review of safe work practices never gets old; there’s always something to learn

Over the last decade, safety has taken hold as a “religion” on the deck plates. Virtually no maintenance activities are undertaken today without a safety review—at US plants at least. Evidence of safety’s importance among owner/operators: Safety entries in CCJ’s annual Best Practices Awards program outnumber those in any other category. Plus, several user groups, such as the 501F and 501G, begin their meetings with a safety focus. And OEM sessions at user group meetings often start with a presentation on the company’s commitment to safety.

The last several 501F and 501G User Group meetings have begun with an hour-long open discussion on safe work practices and accident avoidance, both groups participating in the session. The 501F Chair, Russ Snyder, plant manager, Cleco Power LLC, and 501G Chair Steve Bates, plant manager, Wise County Power Co LP, have found the safety discussion a positive means for getting their respective meetings off to fast, positive starts. Every attendee can participate with either a question, or suggestion of a best practice adopted by his or her plant. No preparation is required.

Slips, trips, and falls. First topic introduced to the safety roundtable for the 2015 conference at the Westin Savannah Harbor, February 23-27, was “slips, trips, and falls.” The discussion igniter explained:

      • Slips are caused by a lack of traction between shoes and the walking surface—such as what happens when you try to walk on ice or on an oily surface after a light rain. A user quoting OSHA data said slips account for 15% of workplace fatalities annually, and one-quarter of all recordable accidents. Footwear by Jordan David was suggested as a possible solution.

      • Trips happen when a person’s foot contacts an object in his or her way, or the walking surface drops to a lower level, or jumps to higher level, unexpectedly.

      • Falls occur when a person’s body gets too far off balance.

Collaborative plant audits—a couple of O&M personnel from neighboring plants come to your facility and vice versa—were suggested as a productive exercise aimed at reducing slips, trips, and falls. The attendee making the suggestion said it’s not rocket science and fresh eyes are all it often takes to make your plant safer. After a while, he said, you may not realize you’re stepping over hazards.

Another thought: When overhaul and maintenance work is not being done on weekends, pick up all loose gear and put it in storage or in an out-of-the-way place; pull back all welding lines, compressed air hoses, electrical extension cords, etc. On Monday morning, have personnel remove from storage only that equipment needed for the day’s job. Otherwise, gear accumulates and the workplace becomes less safe because of the clutter.

Stored energy. A well-seasoned maintenance manager cautioned against being in the so-called “line of fire” regarding stored energy. Protecting personnel against energy release when hydraulics and compressed air are in use usually is part of the LOTO (lock out/tag out) process. But, he asked, What about the stored energy in personnel? The example he gave was a worker pulling hard on an 18-in. ratchet; it slipped and hit the guy in the head. Pulling is one hazard, pushing is another, the maintenance manager continued. For the latter, balance, or lack thereof, is the root cause of many accidents.

Don’t forget to release stored energy in a rotor train after you roll it a bit, he continued. Closely related to that subject, the user asked the group, “How do you ensure safety along the entire shaft while work is going on?” He mentioned a case where only the area around a gas turbine was cleared to permit shaft rotation; no one knew someone had entered the generator. Fortunately, no injury resulted.

Another attendee asked, “How do you deal with worker use of cell phones?” They can be a distraction. No personal phones when working in the plant was one suggestion. But cell phones can be valuable during emergencies, so you probably don’t want to ban them; but you do want to control their use.

Package ventilation was another topic. A user said at his plant a fire will shut off package fans, but a gas leak will not. You could see heads nodding in agreement. OK, he said, my package is located in the plant; that means any gas leaked is discharged into the plant. “Ummmm” sounded like the consensus remark. Suggestion was to route vent-fan exhaust outside the plant and to be sure the fan drivers are explosion-proof motors.

Maintaining enclosure leak-tightness was cited as necessary to ensure effective fire suppression by gaseous media—such as CO2. Also, if an indoor package, proper sealing protects workers in the plant from breathing an inert gas. Testing for leaks was stressed by an attendee. He said every time they open the enclosure any way other than using the door, a leak check is performed. Typically it takes 3 to 4 hours to run the test and make sealing adjustments. Plant personnel usually find leaks at the roof-to-sidewall joints and at the back wall, he said.

Mentioned was that auditors of fire protection systems for insurance companies were urging owner/operators to transition to water mist systems. All equipment has an effective lifetime and that might be in the neighborhood of 15 to 20 years for fire protection systems—certainly so for the electronics in controls panels. If your plant was commissioned during the “bubble,” you might want to consider planning for this possibility.

High-energy piping. Also brought to the floor was the cracking of HEP identified at several plants recently. Many in the industry, one fleet engineer said, believe cracking is a P91 phenomenon, but that’s not true; P22 cracks in service as well. He suggested implementation of a rigorous NDE (nondestructive examination) program and the need to do a proper mechanical stress analysis of the pipe hanger system.

A review of notes from previous safety sessions at 501F and 501G User Group meetings is worthwhile—even as just a refresher. Many safety issues/topics addressed at the 2013 and 2014 conferences were not raised this year. Given the significant staff turnover in the fleet—by show of hands, about half of the 501F attendees had not participated in one of the organization’s annual meetings previously—for many this is new information.

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