Are you experiencing extended downtimes due to the inability of your personnel to troubleshoot combustion systems? Are new technologies resulting in increased outsourced service calls because your people are not aware of how to address it? You are not alone: This is a common trend among industries, manufacturers and facilities.
So, how are these issues to be remedied? The answer is simple and stated directly within the national and international standards: training. Training is a regular component of any business: You have gone through job training, equipment operation training, process training and more. It is how we learn to function within our working lives.
For industrial settings, training is imperative to safety, success and daily efficiency. It is so imperative that U.S. and international codes and standards such as NFPA 86, the U.S. standard for ovens and furnaces, and EN 746, the European standard for industrial thermoprocessing equipment, actually list requirements to be met on an annual basis regarding employee education. As codes are developed to outline the minimum standards required by law, authorities codify that training is not just fundamental for knowing how to do your job; it is an ongoing effort that must be enforced to ensure you are performing your job duties safely.
NFPA 86 applies to ovens, dryers, furnaces, thermal oxidizers and any other heated enclosure used for processing materials. This includes equipment utilizing fuel gases such as natural gas or petroleum, liquid fuels and oxy-fuel. NFPA 86 specifically states (figure 1) that personnel who operate, maintain or supervise the oven or furnace shall:
• Be thoroughly instructed and trained in their job functions.
• Demonstrate an understanding of safe operation procedures.
• Be kept current with changes in the equipment and operating procedures.
• Receive regular refresher training.
As shown in figure 2, EN 746-1, Section 6.4.9 also states that “personnel operating the equipment shall be trained and competent in the operation of the equipment and in the hazards associated with the process, and their prevention.” Based on these legal requirements, the question now remains: Are you receiving and/or conducting the proper training?
It is quite common within corporations and at individual facilities to overlook something like training. Do you remember the last time you or your colleagues received instruction related to combustion or the equipment? Production and daily responsibilities take priority, budgets are limited and new hire onboarding is often thought to be sufficient.
Because it is required for OEMs to provide training on a new oven, furnace or boiler when installed, that information also is thought to be adequate preparation for its operation. This information may not be accurate, though, as it can be diluted during employee training if not preserved in a formal program or document. Also, because many OEMs do not return to installation sites to educate operators on any changes in the national codes and standards or equipment, the initial training may not meet current standards or address recent changes in national and international regulations.
As noted by the National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors, “of the 23,338 accidents recorded over the past 10 years, 83 percent were a direct result of human oversight or lack of knowledge.”1 The majority of tragic, costly industrial accidents include human error as part of the root cause. Most of these occurrences could have been prevented if hazards were recognized and proper safety measures were known and taken.
Commonly Overlooked Hazards
Some of the most commonly overlooked hidden hazards that auditors have found after conducting thousands of inspections per year on all different types of fuel-fired equipment include:
• Jumper wires.
• Lubricated plug valves that are not being maintained.
• Incorrect venting.
• Lack of safety interlock and valve-tightness testing.
• Emergency shutoff valves that are not labeled.
• Bent or broken safety-relief handles.
• Disconnected or crimped sensing lines for safety devices.
These hazards present an immediate risk. Usually, they are usually found on more than one piece of equipment within a facility, but frequently they are ignored even though they have a direct correlation to the operation and safety of equipment and staff. Figure 3 illustrates three of the most common hidden hazards:
• Jumper wires can bypass safety devices or system requirements for efficient operation, allowing for unburned fuel to accumulate, which could result in a fire or explosion.
• Lubricated plug valves seal by virtue of the sealant that is within them. If they are not being maintained or lubricated with the correct sealant, gas may leak past the valve seat downstream into the fuel-train piping or through the stem into the atmosphere, just waiting for an ignition source.
• Incorrectly vented gas-train components, including vent valves, regulators, pressure switches and relief devices, also may allow for a release of gas into the workplace atmosphere.
These are a sampling of hidden dangers that go unnoticed on a daily basis because maintenance personnel, managers and other employees do not know what to look for.
Moreover, often it is discovered that many organizations do not have regular or sufficient training programs. The programs that are in place may not be executed by qualified instructors, and the material may not be accurate or targeted to be relevant. Additionally, with high turnover rates, new hires are being expedited through processes and commonly are not provided with information considered to be comprehensive according to the codes and standards.
A major component required by the codes and standards regarding training programs is that they must be documented. The majority of organizations with a program in place have little to no documentation for the program itself or those who have completed it. Documentation is not just considered a basic outline of the program either. Program records must be detailed, and the regulation to verify all standard training procedures is an NFPA requirement. This requirement is enforced by:
• Any authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ).
• ISO 14001, the standard for environmental management systems.
• OHSAS 18001, a safety assessment series above the OSHA standard developed to establish criteria against which programs are to be certified and assessed in order to control occupational safety and health risks.
For plant personnel, certifications also must be upheld throughout the years, and 80 percent of the requirements to retain them are based on training. This means that program proof must be supplied and it must specify the processes involved, annual frequency, course instructor identification, method of material delivery, documentation processes and the continuation of a program for a five-year minimum to sustain compliance.
The task to meet NFPA 86 and other standards’ requirements can seem overwhelming, but it is necessary, and quick corrective action can be taken to become compliant. Beyond the lawful requirement, the benefits of a strong training program are long lasting and invaluable.
Thorough training significantly reduces the risk of experiencing a combustion-related accident. It enhances safety efforts overall and can help cut costs and save energy. Rather than hiring outside contractors, in-house personnel who are already familiar with the equipment can be trusted with identifying hazards and performing regular maintenance so problems can be diagnosed and repaired faster. Reduced maintenance time and recognized defects lead to better fuel efficiency and operations. As more personnel receive training, sites experience reductions in interruptions, outages and downtime. And more than that, they remain compliant with the national codes and standards while people and equipment are better protected.
Training is not a responsibility to be taken lightly. It is a legal fulfillment required in any industrial setting. An effective, compliant program requires time, research, continuous improvement and participation by dedicated team members and participants. The importance of proper training cannot be discounted. It is not just knowledge that is at risk: it is the safety of the facility and the personnel that drives why the national codes and standards mandate a formal training program, completed on an annual basis. A single minor equipment issue does not cause a disastrous event, but multiple hidden issues have a domino effect. Human error is usually the final additive to bring about a tragedy, production disruption or other business- and life-threatening events.
Verify your organization’s training platform, investigate the curriculum and research what courses outside vendors may offer to help you satisfy your annual responsibility. Allocate time and money for a training program, and you will receive a much greater return on your investment, paybacks that are immediately evident.
1. National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors in the 2002 Bulletin,
Volume 57, Number 2.
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