Occupational Safety and Hazard Assessment in Steam Boilers

The National Board Inspection Code (NBIC) and Factories and Machinery Act (Malaysia) recognized the potential hazards of steam boilers and established various codes and regulations pertaining to controlling the hazards and minimizing risks. Each year, the authorized inspectors inspect fireside and waterside for defects, scaling, and corrosion. Each year, all essential valves and fittings are dismantled for inspection. Plate thickness is checked, boiler water analysis results are reviewed, and indeed, the authority enforces rigorous maintenance on steam boilers but still, various boiler accidents happened. One might wonder why. The reason lies in one salient factor: human error is the leading cause of boiler accidents. One statistic indicated that 83% of boiler accidents were a direct result of human errors due to lack of knowledge and awareness. Although inspection has become stricter, the local authority does not cover inspection on boiler safety controls and all routine or non-routine activities. OSHA can only provide guidelines for safety in the workplace but ensuring the implementations is beyond their scopes.

The fundamental cause of hazards in an organization is organizational inadequacies. The inadequacies can be related to safety controls, safe operating procedures (SOP), hazard and risk assessment and controls, and training or awareness. With inadequacies, employees usually do not realize the hazards and consequences of their actions. Therefore, to minimize or eliminate risks exposed to all employees, contractors, and visitors in their activities, an organization should establish occupational health and safety (OHS) management system. Only through OHS that hazards can be recognized, and safety and health risks can be assessed and properly addressed. The management can set objectives, provide suitable controls, provide sets of procedures (SOP’s), organize training programs, and establish safety performance evaluation.

Boilers have many potential hazards that must be controlled by safety devices and safe work practice. Before identifying the hazards, one must understand the meaning of hazards. In this context, hazard is defined as “a source or situation with a potential for harm in terms of injury or ill health, damage to property, or a combination of these”. To begin identifying hazards, the management must know what activities are involved. Activities can be divided into two categories which are routine and non-routine. Routine activities include daily operation, chemical preparation, and fuel storage and handling, while non-routine activities include boiler overhaul, confined space entry, and emergency response. The first stage in hazard identification is a selection of job to be analyzed.

The management is to select the key activities first, such as daily operation and chemical preparation. In the second stage, OHS management is to break the activities into logical steps. The logical steps must be unique to the activities, and trivia activities such as switching on lights should be avoided. Examples are taking data from various meters during operation, or pouring boiler chemicals into a jar. In the third stage, the management is to identify hazards and determine the corresponding risks in each step. When preparing boiler chemicals, the boiler operators are exposed to corrosive liquid spill and acid gas release. Risk is the consequence, and in this case, the risks are eyes lesion and pain, burn injury, or cancer if handling hydrazine. High noise level which is above 85 dBA is an example of hazard in daily operation and the risk is obvious, which is deafness. In stage four, the management is to develop risk elimination or reduction measures.

For high noise level, risk elimination or reduction measures would require path noise control such as acoustic insulation (lining) or acoustic partition, enclosure for the noise-radiating source, increase pipe size to reduce steam turbulence, or install noise diffuser. The best approach is to control noise at source, such as installing silencer, changing equipment for example changing normal pressure reducing valve (PRV) to low-noise PRV. Other risk controls for high noise level would be wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) or reducing exposure time. The most common hazard for boiler operation is low water and the risk could be a permanent damage to the boiler or explosion. Modern boilers are usually equipped with automatic level controllers, low water level burner interlocks, low water alarm, and regular checking of gage glasses by the boiler operators. All these are risk controls by safety devices. Working in confined space is a non-routine activity, the hazard associated with it is physical injuries or fatalities due to asphyxia or poisonous gas, and the current risk control is following the guidelines of confined space entry, which shall not be covered here.

In pouring the chemical into a jar, the hazard is chemical splashes to eyes, and the risk is eye lesion and injury. From this, the risk control would be wearing safety goggles. Another example of daily operation is blowing down. Blowdown can cause spillage of hot water, which is the hazard, and may scald boiler operators, which is the risk. The example of risk control is blowing down into the blowdown chamber instead of directly into the atmosphere thereby reducing potential spillage of hot water to the surrounding.

In the final stage, after job safety analysis is completed for each activity, the activities, hazards and risks, and the corresponding risk controls should be documented for reference. Based on that, safe operation procedures can be established to ensure risks at the workplace can be eliminated or minimized. Training must be conducted by the competent person-in-charge to all boiler operators to explain in detail the hazards, risks, controls, procedures and responsibility as well as accountability.

For any organization which does not have structured OHS management system, I would recommend OHSAS 18001 or MS 1722 certification. OHSAS 18001 or MS 1722 provides a set of procedures and tools to promote continual improvement through hazard identification, risk assessment, and control of risk in a very systematic way. Apart from these benefits, I noticed with the implementation of OHSAS 18001 standards, the management and employees in my organization have improved significantly in their understanding of health and safety legislation as well as the ability to demonstrate compliance.

Catchy Safety Slogans to Use at Work

If you’re in charge of writing the next safety message or choosing a safety slogan for your company’s safety initiatives, you know that you’ve got a challenge ahead of you. After all, most safety slogans become invisible and ineffective pretty quickly.

Only create a safety message that is part of a workplace safety campaign where people receive training to change their behaviour. Otherwise. putting a poster on the wall with a new slogan is as helpful as putting a sticker on your car that says “Baby on board”. No-one will pay much attention (or really care!).

To ensure your safety message is sticky, here are five important tips:

1. Use positive language – Avoid creating a slogan that focuses on behaviour that you don’t want. Instead, write a safety message that conveys what you want people to do. For example a negative slogan for height safety is “Don’t fall for it”. Using more positive language, a more appropriate version is “A harness is better than a hearse”. While this might have negative connotations, it still focuses on what you want the person to do, rather than the wrong behaviour.

2. Keep it short (and tweet) – In this age of Twitter, being able to write in 140 characters or less helps you to distill your message. It’s the same with writing a safety message, just try and encapsulate it in 12 words or less.

3. Avoid jargon – Make sure the sentence flows easily. Avoid acronyms and words that not everyone will understand (use the test: will my mum get this one?).

4. Contain a surprise – Common sense is the enemy of sticky safety messages. When our brain’s guessing machine fails, it wants to work out why it was unable to guess. This surprise grabs our attention, so that we can be prepared in the future. By trying to work out what went wrong, our brain is more likely to remember the information.

Here’s a good example (a personal fave): Hug your kids at home, but belt them in the car.

Slogans that contain the obvious will be ignored

Examples are: “Play it safe” and “Be aware, take care”. Yawn!

5. Play on words – A clever play on words helps to make your safety message just that little bit more memorable. This can include rhyming and repeating words in a different order. Adding a little bit of fun can make a serious subject more approachable.

For example:

Is better to lose one minute in life… than to lose life in a minute.

Know safety, no injury. No safety, know injury

Lifting’s a breeze when you bend at the knees

Once you have created you safety slogan and trained people on the new behaviour that is required, regularly remind staff of the safety message in toolbox meetings and email newsletters etc. The more people frequently see it, the more it will get remembered.

Here are some more catchy slogans that are memorable:

While on a ladder, never step back to admire your work

10 fingers, 10 toes 2 eyes 1 nose… safety counts

Knock out… accidents

Shortcuts cut life short

Keep safety in mind. It will save your behind.

A spill, a slip, a hospital trip

Safety glasses: All in favor say “Eye!”

If you mess up, ‘fess up

Behind the wheel, anger is one letter away from danger.

Chance takers are accident makers

Housekeeping you skip may cause a fall or slip.

It’s easier to ask a dumb question than it is to fix a dumb mistake

Make it your mission, not to live in unsafe condition.

Safety comes in a can, I can, You can, We can be safe.

Safety fits like a glove; Try one on.

Safety is a full time job – don’t make it a part time practice

Safety rules are your best tools.

Think smart before you start.

Protect Your Staff From Workplace Violence

Due to the American Constitution, America is the land of “Killing Fields”. Everyday somewhere here in the US we read or hear about School shootings and Workplace violence. Unless there are new laws put into place to protect the American people, employers need to start training their staff on how to protect themselves and their co-workers without the use of another gun.

Here are some tips that may help:

1. Train your managers and staff on how they can prevent issues from arising that could place them in dangerous situations. This could be as simple as knowing and maybe changing the “culture of the” office. Is your agency known to have gossip flowing freely throughout the office?

2. Make sure the employee’s evaluation is objective, honest, has other direct supervisor’s input, and done in a timely manner. This could prevent an angry employee.

3. Be sure to make all employees know how well they are doing on the job, and if they are struggling to fit in, they offer them more training, or support to help them succeed on the job.

4. Are there employees who feel they are being targeted, harassed, or over worked and others aren’t. Is there a “Bully” at your place of business who have not been dealt with? Is there sexual, or racial harassment present?

5. Know your staff and build a relationship with your staff!

6. Develop a plan for “Active Shooter” on site. Where are the nearest exits, who should be a security monitor? This monitor observe all vendors, and staff without frisking them. They are just more aware of who is doing what. Be aware of “the signs” prior to an employee becoming a shooter.

7. What are the key roles of your management team if an active shooter is in your office or building?

8. Are there surveillance cameras on the premises, and do they work?

9. Does each office space have locks so staff can lock themselves in their office until the police arrive?

10. Once police arrive, have staff place their hands in the air or on their heads to indicate they are not a threat.

11. Practice a plan that is best for your agency.

12. Make sure staff knows exactly how to tell the police where they are located or where the shooter is located in your office or building.

Planning and preparing is Key in keeping as many people safe in the workplace.

To your success,