Survival Guide: Safety 101 for a Power Generation Facility

Survival Guide: Safety 101 for a Power Generation Facility

When I started as a safety manager at a power-generation facility, I wished there was some guidance about how to get started. Hopefully, this will help others.

Starting out as a safety manager at a power plant can be overwhelming. Here are few tips that can be crucial for your success during the first few weeks at your job.

The first thing you want to do is to speak to the previous safety professional. It's possible you already have been working with that person, but if not, you need to find out what their experience has been like and learn about the safety performance at the facility. At power-generation facilities, this person might not have had a safety title. He or she could be a plant manager or someone from operations and maintenance.  

Meet with this person as soon as possible; the trick is to write down and visualize everything you talk about. For example, you can write all weekly, monthly and yearly tasks that need to be performed on a white board in your office.  

Risk

Draw your risk matrix chart and identify what hazards are present and what is the severity of tasks that are more frequently performed.  Review your site's emergency response plan and update your contact information with local and state emergency response contacts.

Every power-generation facility site has some special risk that requires close attention. Most power plants are vertical and require the need for fall protection  for some tasks. The use of anhydrous ammonia could be a risk at another facility. Lockout/tagout and confined spaces might be some of the safety challenges at your facility. Review procedures for handling all of these – and other – challenges. Meet with rescue teams and medical staff, whether they are the first aid providers at your site or your local providers, such as EMS, the fire department, local physicians and the doctors in the local emergency room.

Talk to employees and employ a hands-on approach. For example, do employees understand your lockout/tagout procedures and why they are so important? Check to see if employees are testing, inspecting and using industrial hygiene monitoring equipment correctly. Are fall protection harnesses and lanyards in good condition, and do employees know how to inspect them?  

Training

As a manager, you are responsible for reviewing all employee training records, including those for RCRA and other plant operator certifications. Additional training is needed for someone who is signing the hazardous waste manifests. Assign trainings based on tasks performed so there will be consistency among employees. For example, welding training must be assigned to all employees performing the task, even though it only may be a few technicians on the site. Keeping training records for onsite contractors is good practice, and records for all employees should be maintained.

When was the last time a noise survey was performed at your site? It might be time to schedule one and while you're at it, review your site's hearing conservation program to determine if your program is adequate and if employees are wearing their assigned hearing protection. Schedule weekly and monthly safety meetings and perform quarterly drills your site to prepare employees for worst-case scenerios.

Permits/Certificates:

Almost all power plants have air Title V, stormwater, municipal waste water and fire department permits. Complying with regulations regarding air permits is vitally important, and there are hourly and annual compliance guidelines. Check your Air Title V permit and understand your emissions limits for NOx, CO, ammonia slip and fuel firing limits. Review the calibration procedures for your continuous emissions monitors (CEMs).

There is a lot of paperwork and reporting for power-generation facilities. Some municipal waste permits require facilities to submit monthly wastewater repots; do you work in a community that requires them?  Review all fire department and chemistry lab certificates; are they up to date? Make sure you import and save all reporting due dates into your calendar – local, state federal, including EPA and OSHA – and assign alarms to those dates so you know when something is due.

Employee Culture

Try to sense the employee safety culture. Recognize and encourage positive behavior and emphasize the use of the right tools for the task at hand.

Employee behavior will impact your safety goals, job performance, site recycling and waste minimization efforts. Develop key initiatives for each month to discuss with employees, for example: January is chemical management month, February is ladder safety month, etc.  

Employees usually take their cues from managers. Do you wear your PPE when you are walking through the facility? Does upper management support your safety efforts and comply with safety-related regulations for the facility? If not, you will have a difficult time getting employees to do so.

Upper-level management also sets your budget, so make sure you review which safety equipment and supplies are needed on regular basis. Talk to employees about the types of safety gloves they prefer or which welding masks they find comfortable. Include checks for PPE on your weekly manager's walk through.

At power-generation facilities, we have to pay special attention to worker needs during the outage season and in winter months – when crews are sent out to make repairs in what often can be terrible weather conditions. Check equipment related to these high-risk tasks – such as high voltage electric gloves with various voltage ratings every six months or so – to ensure its in good shape when employees need to grab it and go.

Hazard Hunts and Near Miss Reporting

Encourage employees to report unsafe work conditions and near misses. A hazard hunt reduction program could be very rewarding. It encourages and rewards employees for finding and reducing hazards, which helps to engage them in workplace safety and to take responsibility for helping to create a safer work environment.

Discuss the results of these performed hazard hunts during monthly safety meetings and encourage feedback. Eliminate hazards before they occur by performing job safety analysis for all new tasks and minimize safety risks using administrative or engineering controls.

And don't forget that community is important, both on the job and in the area where your plant is located. You can contribute to creating a good name for your company by participating in a food or coat drive for local schools or hospitals. Help a local charity by doing a fundraiser or donating your time to mentor a college student. If you have great safety and environmental performance at your facility, share that with your community – internal and external – by applying for award programs offered on a local, state or national level.

Haroon Aslam P.E., is an EHS manager working for GE Power and Water. He has 11 years' experience in the EHS field and currently lives in Ramsey, N.J. with his wife, Fatima, his daughters, Noor and Dania.

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