Home>Handbooks>Maintenance Management Guide>Assessing risks in the boilerhouse

Assessing risks in the boilerhouse

20 May 2015

Many of those who have the responsibility for looking after the boilerhouse are often under production pressures to keep their boilers fully operational and they may be unaware of potential health and safety issues. However, as David Kilpatrick, director of the Combustion Engineering Association (CEA), explains If boilers are operated properly and there is a good maintenance regime in place, then many years of safe, trouble-free service should follow

In the UK, boiler and pressure vessel safety standards have improved over many years such that only a small number of incidents are reported to the HSE. However there are underlying incidents in the background that are never publicly aired through fear of prosecution or a lack of knowledge. The issue of corporate manslaughter has come into ever sharper focus as a result of an incident in 2011 where a door blew off a pressure vessel, killing the 42 year old operator and inflicting life changing injuries to a second worker. 

An article about the incident* by the British Safety Council said:

"A Rotherham waste management company pioneering new recycling technology has been found guilty of corporate manslaughter after poorly-maintained plant exploded under high pressure, killing one worker and seriously injuring another.

Sterecycle (Rotherham) Limited, which has since gone into liquidation, was found guilty on the unanimous verdict of a jury at Sheffield Crown Court on 7 November 2014.  It was fined £500,000, the highest penalty to date under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.

On 11 January 2011 the door of the autoclave, which had for some time been recognised as a problem, failed and blew out.  An employee suffered fatal head injuries and his colleague was left fighting for his life.  The force of the blast was so great it blew a hole in the wall of the factory.

Addressing the company in his sentencing remarks, Mr Justice Jay said: "Although you were neither present nor represented in these proceedings, I have to say that the evidence against you has been overwhelming.

Your employee died as a result of systemic failings in the way the running of this autoclave was managed and operated by you.  A substantial element in those failings was attributable to your senior management …”

Royal & Sun Alliance added in a recent publication: "The autoclave had been opened several times under pressure, despite it being unsafe to do so, and the locking mechanisms had been damaged with every opening.  Hammer marks around the locks showed the extent to which the mechanisms had been broken, requiring substantial force to be locked.  At one point, the rubber seal around the door of the autoclave was replaced twice a day.  The company knew of the issue but opted to replace the seals rather than investigate the cause of the problem.”

Serious accidents do often result in prosecution, not only for the company but also the managers and individuals involved. People often feel they can be immune from prosecution if they don’t report an incident, or that they may operate in certain sectors where, incorrectly, they believe they still have Crown Immunity.

Steam is a terrific medium to distribute heat economically and gives up its heat readily at the point of use. Returning the condensate reduces your operating costs significantly as it retains the residual heat and the chemicals. However operating your steam systems incorrectly can be very costly and potentially dangerous. 

The CEA continues to deliver a number of conferences throughout the UK talking about BG01 guidance for steam and hot water boilers, written collectively by The Combustion Engineering Association (CEA), the Safety Assessment Federation (SaFed) and the HSE who looked at the issues of automation in the boilerhouse.  As a result the HSE revoked the old PM5 document which had been in place for many years and replaced it with a new industrial guidance document, INDG 436, 'Safe Management of Industrial Steam and Hot Water Boilers', supported by a more in-depth technical guide BG01 'Guidance on Safe Operation of Boilers'. 

CEA has now incorporated the risk assessment element into the conference workshop.

These two documents have now been generally adopted as industrial best practice, but it can bring with it certain misunderstanding by the reader. 

In BG01 there are several arrangement drawings of boiler plant, with automation and control measures related to manning levels adopted.  In the document it refers to 'typical arrangement' drawings and people are confusing what is meant by a typical arrangement, believing this is proscriptive. 

There are various ways of achieving the correct level of automation based on your chosen manning level and all of this is addressed through a "Technical Boilerhouse Risk Assessment”, a legal requirement. 

The need for risk assessments as a legal requirement does not in itself address the issues within industry. The lack of knowledge and current skill levels together with the uncertainty of how to undertake the assessment all contribute to non compliance with the law. 

CEA have responded to this by organising conferences and providing presenters who include industry experts, HSE, RSA and others to explain clearly how to carry out a risk assessments to achieve compliance with BG01. 

The two-day conference comprises lectures and a ‘hands on’ workshop to give delegates the confidence to carry out a risk assessment or employ an expert to assist in doing so. It has the support of all CEA members, many of whom will be present at the conference to discuss their products and how they can assist you with a proper risk assessment.

Join us in Durham City, Glasgow or Daventry for the next conference workshops.Contact details below.

* http://cm.core-clients.co.uk/pdf/cea/l21_management_of_health_and_safety_at_work.pdf