Boilers, water heaters, air tanks and other pressure retaining items are common to all occupancies. Many times they are hidden in mechanical rooms, basements and closets. These stationary devices can be hazardous to your facility in many ways, from water damage to carbon monoxide poisoning, to burns and explosions. As a Safety Professional, how do you know if your system is being properly monitored, operated, maintained and tested? Can you identify the basic hazards and conditions in your mechanical rooms?
As Safety Professionals, the immediate hazards we think about are the confined spaces, rotating machinery, electrical hazards and the other components of our safety program. There are many other hazards associated with boilers and pressure vessels that can be readily identified during your plants safety walk through.
Advances in automation and the need for efficiency gains have resulted in reduced maintenance resources in most facilities. Decades ago, boilers and pressure vessels were entrusted to experienced and often licensed operators who conducted routine inspections, tests and the required maintenance while monitoring the safe operation of these units. In today's facilities, it is the exception to have qualified and dedicated personnel monitoring the boiler and pressure vessel operations on a routine basis.
The hazards associated with stored energy have not changed. Boiler and pressure vessel accidents and injuries are still common and avoidable. In many cases, the design of modern boilers and pressure vessels are hidden under the cover of a common metal box. They are common hazards in the workplace and are overlooked on a frequent basis.
The advanced control systems found on modern boilers can give a false sense of security. They provide automatic operation with minimal operator intervention. These advances have created an increased reliability to overall operations yet they have created an apathetic boiler and pressure vessel operational culture.
Changes in boiler and pressure vessel laws in many cases have removed the requirement for a licensed operator. In some cases, there are requirements for jurisdictional inspections; however annual or longer jurisdictional inspection frequencies do not reveal the everyday hazards to the safety of your facility and you might be surprised at what they don't look for.