While it is impossible to prepare for a devastating disaster such as those that occurred this week in New York City and Washington, D.C., safety experts at Combustion Safety Inc. say having a workplace emergency plan in place can be the difference between life and death.
"In our corner of the world, we have tried to think of some ways to help in the case of a disaster," says John Puskar, Combustion Safety''s president. "Whether you work at an industrial plant, school, hospital, or even a large apartment building, your site''s facility staff should review their ability to shut off natural gas both outside at the main shut-off and inside at different locations."
The following describes these and other things Combustion Safety suggests you review in a time of emergency.
1. Make sure that natural gas main incoming shut-off valve locations are known. These valves should be checked for operability. This will mean exercising them and making sure they have handles. In many cases, natural gas main shut-off valves have not been moved in years and cannot even be turned. Lubricated plug valves need to be serviced regularly to remain operable. This means that special sealants and equipment have to be on hand and/or available to keep valves working.
2. Make sure that the proper main shut-off valves are identified in some manner. Some incoming services have numerous valves. This could be confusing in a crisis. It would be terrible to think that gas is being shut off when instead a bypass was being opened.
3. Make sure that your natural gas incoming main is secured in a fenced and locked area, that you have a key, and procedures for access.
4. If your main incoming natural gas service is not secured with a fence and/or locks consider whether or not it should be. Also make sure that emergency contact numbers and "no smoking signs" are properly posted near this equipment.
5. Review your site''s natural gas distribution systems inside your plant to make sure that you understand how the piping is networked and where important system shut-off valves are located. Make sure these critical network valves are accessible, operable, and have handles installed.
6. Communicate the locations of your emergency shut-off valves both inside and outside your site to your local fire department.
7. Review your site''s emergency disaster plans for the locations where people will evacuate to in the case of an incident.
8. Review the conditions upon which a boilerhouse or process area would be evacuated. Make sure that in processes where an orderly shut-down is required, personnel understand what procedures need to be followed. This is the time to review the procedure in a formal meeting with all operators and relevant staff. In some cases, equipment has to be specially prepared for a safe shut-down.
9. Consider the impact and importance that electrical systems and the sudden loss of power can have on combustion equipment. In some cases, a loss in electrical power can make for control systems to restart in an unsafe manner. Review your operations with an eye towards which control systems and operations need to be on emergency power or battery back-up.
10. Make sure emergency contact information is up to date. This includes reviewing emergency and management personnel phone numbers including home, cell, and pagers. Consider that many gas utilities have merged and/or changed names. They may have also changed emergency contact information. Consider supplementing your list with disaster resource number information such as the names and phone numbers of sources for boilers, generators, and/or even fuel suppliers (propane or oil).
"Our prayers go out to all of the victims and their families of this devastating tragedy," said Puskar. "The future is uncertain, but reviewing the issues identified above can put you in a position to do all that you can and be prepared."
by Virginia Foran