Five ways to ensure plant safety in processing facilities

Effective plant safety in processing facilities requires good training, assessment and the right procedures and equipment in place.

By Christine Tarlecki January 18, 2024
Courtesy: ThermOmegaTech

Plant safety insights

  • Proper employee training is crucial; inclusive programs covering hygiene, PPE, and equipment handling reinforce safety, fostering informed, safe practices among personnel.
  • Thorough risk assessments identify hazards, enabling the implementation of control measures, streamlined workflows, and maintenance to minimize potential accidents.

Processing facilities must ensure employees are trained and educated on proper protocols and procedures to maintain a safe working environment. Plant managers should regularly access the facility for risks and ensure sanitization procedures are followed. Facilities must be equipped with essential cleaning equipment and emergency safety stations to protect personnel and adhere to industry regulations.

1. Proper employee training and education

Employees are the backbone of any plant, and their knowledge and adherence to safety protocols are crucial. All-inclusive training programs should educate employees on proper hygiene practices, personal protective equipment (PPE) use and equipment handling. “Regular refresher courses and ongoing education initiatives will help reinforce safety protocols and keep employees informed about the latest processing industry standards,” said Glenn Quinty, senior design engineer at ThermOmegaTech.

2. Assess facility risks

Conducting a thorough risk assessment is necessary to identify and understand potential hazards within the plant. This assessment involves analyzing the processes, machinery, chemicals and work environments to pinpoint possible sources of danger. Once identified, appropriate control measures can be implemented to mitigate risks and minimize the likelihood of accidents.

The facility should be designed to minimize cross-contamination risks, facilitate proper workflow and ensure easy cleaning and maintenance. Adequate ventilation, proper drainage systems, and separation of raw and processed areas are critical. Regular maintenance and equipment inspection, including machinery, conveyors and storage units are essential to prevent mechanical failures and potential hazards.

3. Develop proper sanitization procedures

Cleaning and sanitizing chemical, pharmaceutical, food and beverage processing equipment is critical to maintaining hygiene and operational efficiency. These facilities can offer microscopic places for germs and pathogens to hide, especially in cracks and scratches.

Effective sanitization practices should include regularly cleaning and disinfecting all surfaces and equipment. Washdown stations are a part of those best practices.

“Using a washdown unit like ThermOmegaTech’s STVM Station that combines steam and water to provide a high-temperature wash has several benefits. Steam and water mixing stations provide instantaneous steam-heated water with pressure behind it, which can kill bacteria, sterilize and break down greases and other residues in processing plants,” Quinty said. “When factoring in the amount of volume that the steam occupies in the pipe, as it is compressible, it allows more energy transfer per pipeline distribution size than water or electricity. This washdown station sanitizes equipment efficiently and prevents contamination while complying with industry standards.”

All-inclusive training programs should educate employees on proper hygiene practices, personal protective equipment (PPE) use and equipment handling.

All-inclusive training programs should educate employees on proper hygiene practices, personal protective equipment (PPE) use and equipment handling. Courtesy: ThermOmegaTech

4. Implement emergency safety equipment

Installing emergency equipment to protect personnel is vital to workplace safety. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations address the need for emergency eyewash and shower stations in 1910.151(c) but does not go into specific requirements for the equipment. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z358.1 standard is the widely accepted guideline for adequately selecting, installing, operating, and maintaining emergency showers, eyewashes, eye/face washes and combination units.

ANZI Z358.1 addresses where and how to install the equipment and the flushing liquid’s velocity, pressure and temperature. If a person is exposed to a dangerous substance, they need to flush the area of their body exposed with tepid water as quickly as possible. Using tepid water prevents scalding and low-temperature shock.

“Tepid water is defined as 60 to 100 °F (15.6 to 37.8°C) and must be available for a minimum of 15 minutes at a continuous flow of 20 GPM at 30 PSI for showers and 0.3 GPM at 30 PSI for face/eyewash combo stations,” Quinty said.

There are various solutions for tepid water delivery to these stations, including mixing valves, electric water heaters and instantaneous electric or steam heater systems.

Mixing valves require a source of hot water with a sufficient flow rate.

Electric water heater systems are designed explicitly for emergency drench systems. This water heater is packaged with a thermostatic valve to supply tepid water to equipment even when electric power is lost.

Instantaneous electric systems are ideal for facilities that do not have an available source of hot water. Typically installed on the wall, this option has a relatively small footprint but very high electric requirements. While the unit only uses energy when there is demand, this can result in higher utility costs and may require special insulation in hazardous or explosion-proof locations.

Instantaneous steam heater systems often utilize a facility’s existing steam supply to heat water instantly to appropriate tepid temperatures. These compact systems often have a small footprint and are simple to install. They use steam only when there is demand and function 100% mechanically, making them ideal for explosive-proof environments.

Freeze and scald protection valves can also be installed to prevent freezing and overheating on safety showers and eyewash stations.

5. Strict adherence to regulations and industry standards

Adhering to relevant safety regulations and industry standards is non-negotiable. Compliance with legal requirements ensures that the plant operates within established parameters. Regular audits and inspections should be conducted to verify compliance and identify improvement areas. When a proactive approach is implemented with employees, they feel empowered in their daily work processes and know their facility demonstrates a commitment to safeguarding its employees.

Maintaining and enforcing employee training and education initiatives, assessing facility risks, following proper sanitization procedures and implementing emergency safety equipment are all ways to ensure your employees are at their safest while working daily.

Author Bio: Christine Tarlecki works in marketing at ThermOmegaTech in Bucks County, PA. She has over 20 years of professional writing experience, with over five years as a professional writer in the manufacturing and plumbing & HVAC industries.