Safe work practices drive decisions on the deck plates

The 7F Users Group steering committee gave its Safety Practices and Lessons Learned open forum the respect deserved by positioning it in a prime-time spot on the 2015 meeting agenda (Sheraton Denver Downtown, May 11-15) and by assigning one of the industry’s most respected discussion leaders and safety experts, Jeff Gillis, as the session chair. Gillis, the gas-turbine technology lead for ExxonMobil Research & Engineering Co, is both a member of the 7F steering committee and the co-chairman of the Frame 6 Users Group.

Gillis’ presentation consisted essentially of one slide, listing the following possible discussion topics, among others:

      • Fall protection and PPE (personal protective equipment).

      • Life-saving rules.

      • Compartment entry.

      • Ergonomics during outages.

      • Use of a dedicated safety professional during outages.

      • Inlet filter house fire prevention and escape.

      • Hazardous gas detection.

      • Rescue considerations.

      • Fire suppression systems.

This was an open discussion session; Gillis was not there to lecture. His job was to stimulate a give-and-take, help colleagues resolve safety challenges, identify best practices, leave no question unanswered, etc. So, he said from the podium, pick one of these topics, or present one of your own, and let’s get started.

Fall protection inside the package was brought to the floor first, no surprise there. Package rigidity with the roof off was questioned regarding its load-carrying capability. A user cautioned that tie-offs must be well-engineered because the plant is libel for injuries not prevented by the protection system. Interestingly, the following day, Alliant Energy’s Emery and Riverside Generating Stations accepted a CCJ Best Practices Award at the 7F meeting for their rail and lanyard solution to protect against enclosure fall hazards.

Someone reported difficulties in getting contractor personnel to use fall protection. Everyone in the room knew the answer to that one: “You don’t have to use fall protection. Will the next person who thinks they can question the plant rules regarding fall protection please step forward?”

Safety rules are there for a reason and have to be followed no matter what any plant employee or contractor thinks, a steering-committee member said. He recalled a time when a contractor collapsed on the job with all the symptoms of a heart attack. An ambulance was called. By the time it arrived, the person in distress believed he had recovered and there was nothing to worry about. He was told he couldn’t stay onsite unless he went to the hospital. Reluctantly, he got in the ambulance. Doctors said he would have died had he not come to the hospital for treatment.

The discussion migrated to rules for package entry during operation. This is a hot topic of debate industry-wide today. One reason: The OEM strongly recommends against package entry when the unit is operating. An audience poll showed plants represented by 79% of the attendees responding to the question, using the group’s high-tech wireless polling system, allowed entry during engine operation. Virtually everything the 7F users said on the subject, and more, was shared at the 2015 Frame 6 user meeting and reported previously. You might also look back at notes from the 2014 7F meeting.

The use of dedicated safety professionals during outages was viewed positively. One attendee said that his plant requires a job safety professional (JSP) for each shift when six or more people are working on the turbine. This person has to know site and contractor safety requirements and OSHA regulations. When disagreements arise, he said, the JSPs for the contractor and owner/operator generally can work things out collaboratively.

Regarding the use of third-party safety professionals, one user said his plant did not find value in doing that and was eliminating the practice. Statistics didn’t support paying for this service, he said. Someone on the far side of the room asked for the mic and noted that third-party safety professionals were like any other contractor—some are good, some not. You have to figure it out. Four-fifths of the attendees did not use third-party contractors for this service.

The subject of fire risks associated with work on the air inlet house stimulated some conversation. Far too frequently there’s a report of a fire caused by welding on the filter house; dry air filters and evap media ignite quickly. Remove them before cutting and welding.

Beware halogen lamps as well. One experience mentioned at a recent 501F Users Group conference: Workers hired to change filters were using a halogen lamp in the narrow passageway between the prefilters and final filters and forgot to turn off the light before quitting for the day. Exactly how the fire got started is not known; evidence was consumed in the resulting blaze. The person telling the story said the fire department was called at the first sight of smoke but the filter house was a goner in a matter of minutes.

One thought was that the door to the air inlet house, though which the power cord for the lamp passed, closed and moved the lamp in contact with filter material. The job foreman said the door had been tied open, but it was a windy day. Running a power cord through an open door is an unsafe work practice and should not have been allowed; wall penetrations for utilities were called for. Another alternative: Use only LED lighting in filter houses.

Lighting aside, plant personnel realized after the fire that the only access door to the three-story filter house was on the first floor and that was the only way to get into and out of the structure. Had a worker been at the second or third elevation (access by wall-mounted ladder) when the fire started, observers said he or she probably could not have survived. Consider retrofitting access doors on each level of your filter house.

The 7F 2015 open forum on safety ran on adrenaline for an hour, coming to an emergency stop when the lunch bell sounded. It was not possible to get to all of the discussion topics that Gillis had on his opening slide, but the links below can help you catch up on user thinking on some of those high-profile subjects and others:

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