Safety Practices for a Successful Plant Shutdown

A successful plant shutdown starts with a safe workforce. A documented procedure, communication, and well-trained team are key. The following are some of the best safety practices for a successful plant shutdown.

GIVE YOURSELF ENOUGH TIME TO PLAN

The single best thing you can do for a successful plant shutdown is to give yourself enough time to plan the outage effectively. The standard recommendation is that you begin planning four months before the scheduled outage. Check out Chemical Engineering Magazine’s plant turnaround checklist  for extra assurance that you aren’t missing any crucial considerations during the planning stage.

CONDUCT A RISK ASSESSMENT

Your document lockout procedure (see below) must anticipate all potential risks, to avoid them.

RE-EDUCATE YOUR WORKFORCE ABOUT SAFETY

Plant turnaround safety is something that needs to be refreshed each year, given the high level of risk associated with the work. Include an emergency response procedure, and invest in the safety of your workers ahead of time. Consider outsourcing safety training to safety training management platforms such as SafeForce or Industrial Training Services to save time and money.

UNPLUG YOUR EQUIPMENT

Occupational Safety puts it bluntly: you would never clean a meat slicer without first unplugging the machine and (if possible) locking up the plug until the job is done. This rings especially true for machines that store massive amounts of energy. Unplug the machine, lock up the gear and keep the key until all work is done. This is one of the simplest ways to keep your workforce safe from the risk of moving parts during a plant shutdown.

STORE HAZARDS SAFELY

Keep all hazardous and dangerous material locked up and safely stored, out of the work area, during the shutdown.

TEST FOR EXPOSURE RISK

Some plants, typically chemical, pose a real risk of exposure to toxic chemicals. This might include acidic chemicals, flammable gases, toxic fumes, airborne fibers, etc. Bring on a specialist to test for exposure risk, and check out OSHA’s resources on Controlling Exposures if you detect hazards you need to control.

KEEP IT TURNED OFF

Restraint pads can be used to keep the system from turning back on while your workers are completing the maintenance work. The worker who is completing the machine’s work should be the first one the turn off the machine, padlock the system and hold the key. And the last person to remove the padlock!

DON’T ‘GO LEAN’

A lack of resources will impede the success of your maintenance shutdown. You don’t want to assign a single worker with more work than they can successfully oversee—you’ll often see this dilemma with plant engineers. This compromises the success and reduces the safety of your shutdown.

COMMUNICATE

Plant shutdowns can be dangerous. One of the best ways to avoid injuries is with communication. Develop your own code: phrases to quickly flag that there is a danger or that some form of swift response is needed to resolve the immediate danger. This can be as simple as ‘do not energize.’ or ‘do not operate.’—these safety slogans, talk messages, and/or banners can save you time and an avoidable injury.

ASSIGN QUALIFIED PERSONNEL

Heavy machinery plays a large role in most shutdowns. Make sure that the workers you assign to man this machinery are trained and qualified, and that there is always someone spotting outside the machine to guide their transport of the equipment.

DOCUMENT YOUR PROCEDURE

If you’re concerned about approval from inspectors (which we all should be), you’ll want a documented process for the maintenance of each machine. This ensures that as outage workers and plant executives come and go, the training and procedure for the plant shutdown is passed on. This procedure includes the following: who will do the work, which energy sources need to be controlled, where control panels are and steps for removing the lockout.

Adhere to these best safety practices for a successful plant shutdown and you’re well on your way to a more productive plant and a safer, happier workforce!

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