Preparing for a safety audit

Flight passenger safety procedures are so engrained in our minds that it often feels like there’s no need to review them when we get on a plane. As health and safety becomes second nature to us, do plant managers feel the same about an emergency situation in their facility?

Here, Clive Jones, Managing Director of thermal fluid supply and preventive management specialist, Global Heat Transfer, explains how plant managers using heat transfer fluid can prepare for a safety audit.

In an environment in which employees work in close proximity with potentially hazardous substances, such as thermal fluids, plant managers need to ensure their facility is safe. The best way to reduce risk in these facilities is to adhere to regulations.

Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR) and the Explosive Atmosphere Directive (ATEX 137) outline the mandatory requirements for minimising safety risks and protecting workers from fire and the explosion of flammable materials present at the facility.

What is a safety audit?

A safety audit evaluates the condition of a facility and its practices to help ensure that it meets regulations and reduces any risk of incidents. Facilities with a thermal fluid heat transfer system need a regular audit to report onsite health and safety procedures because of the potentially dangerous substances present.

There is no fail or pass when it comes to a safety audit. The auditors collect information about the facility and its safety procedures. From this, they make recommendations regarding how to correct the health and safety programme to comply with legislation.

Regular maintenance

As there is no failing an audit, plant managers do not need to prepare. However, plant managers should consider the main parts of an audit to understand where they should do regular maintenance in the facility.

Auditors will base the audit on thermal fluid analysis to determine the condition of the oil. They must draw the sample when the fluid is hot and the system is both closed and circulating to ensure it is representative.

If thermal fluid analysis results show that carbon is present in the fluid, plant managers may be able to restore the quality by diluting or filtering the fluid. This will help to protect the system, continue production and extend the life of the fluid, all while keeping maintenance costs down.

Clive Jones, Managing Director, Global Heat Transfer

Plant managers can also install a light ends removal kit (LERK) to remove volatile thermal fluid components that can be generated at high operating temperatures. LERKs can be used on systems of any size, but it is important that light ends are collected safely in the liquid phase of the system’s condenser and disposed of safely.

As well as fluid analysis, plant managers should regularly check the condition of the pipework, flanged joints, gaskets and seals in the heat transfer system. They also need to check the pressure gauges to ensure that they are giving accurate readings.

Conducting regular checks will help to ensure that any system leaks are spotted early. Plant managers should also look out for smoking flanges and leaking gaskets, as both are signifiers of a leak. These will all be checked during a safety audit and any faulty equipment will be recorded. This will have a negative impact on the audit results; but, if left unmanaged, could lead to something more serious, such as a fire or explosion.

Protective equipment

For heat transfer operations to run safely, the system’s insulation needs to be in tact to prevent employees from accidentally coming in to contact with the hot system. Spill kits, which include floor signs, hazard tape, pads, socks and a bin specifically designed for hazardous materials, should be replaced immediately after they have been used to ensure that one is always available in the event of a leak or oil spillage.

General housekeeping is also important. Prior to a safety audit, plant managers should ensure that the facility is free from clutter. This makes it easier for the auditors to walk around the facility and see the condition of the system.

Managing records

Records should be kept up-to-date at all times, as plant managers need quick access to their latest thermal fluid sample results and service audits. Frequent thermal fluid samples should be taken and reported ready for review by the auditor. Best practice for representative sample analysis is at quarterly intervals.

During an audit

Many plant managers see a safety audit as a reason to check their heat transfer system and processes but having an efficient preventative maintenance plan that runs year-round should mean that preparation is in fact second nature.

During the audit, the heat transfer system should be running at its normal operating temperature and conditions so that auditors get an accurate representation of the fluid. An independent company should be appointed to do the audit to ensure that the advice they give is impartial. However, an internal engineer should be present throughout the audit to witness any issues highlighted during the audit.

The safety audit mainly focuses on the condition of the thermal fluid and the main components of the system, including the heater, expansion tank and pipework. The auditor may check the condition of the fluid, as well as how often the company takes samples. They also assess whether the company stocks the right level of top-up heat transfer fluid and whether it is stored correctly.

When inspecting the system itself, the auditor concentrates on the condition of the system components and confirms whether there are any leaks. The auditor also checks that operation instructions for each component are easy to access.

They check the area where parts of the system are housed, particularly the heater. This includes if the heater is in a separate room and whether it is locked or unlocked. They also look for where operation instructions are kept and if the plant has an emergency stop and drain down procedure.

The auditors also review the maintenance programme at the facility, primarily how the plant manager tests and maintains the fluid and how the plant manager inspects and maintains the system.

They then check procedures surrounding health and safety — from identifying risks to managing them and communicating them. Auditors check how the company trains its staff about risk management and safety procedures to ensure everyone knows how to safely work with the system and manage the heat transfer fluid better.

What happens next?

Once the auditors have completed their checks, plant managers need to focus their attention on the areas highlighted in the report.

After addressing any issues, plant managers can invite the auditor back to look over any changes. The auditor then checks progress and ensures the relevant regulations are being adhered to.

The best way to ensure safety audits are passed every time is by introducing a preventive maintenance programme. Regular sampling and visual checks of the system helps manufacturers meet health and safety regulations and prevent the risk of costly breakdowns and hazardous incidents.

Even though we may not pay close attention flight safety procedures, they are there for our benefit. Similarly, plant managers should pay more attention to regulations and audit recommendations when working with dangerous substances such as heat transfer fluid.

Regular thermal fluid analysis and maintenance checks can help plant managers get off to a flying start during an audit.

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