Monday, November 10, 2014

Risks of Working in Confined Spaces at Power Plants

Working in confined spaces is often touted to be one of the most risky types of work carried out in power generation contexts. The risks involved in working in enclosed spaces may include exposure to hazardous atmospheres, suffocation, electrocution or burns. Dangerous as it is, the hazards of working in such an environment can be predicted and mitigated, and the impending accidents prevented.

One of the foremost dangers of working in enclosed spaces is exposure to electrical energy. Arc flashes and thermal burns are especially dangerous in such a working condition, as it may be difficult for a worker to avoid unintentional contact or proximity. Flammability is another hazard, as the equipment already inside the space and the devices introduced by the worker into the space can potentially be sources of ignition.

When working in energized enclosed spaces is indispensable, safety procedures, such as de-energizing electrical equipment and controlling access to risky premises, should be strictly followed. In addition, it is essential to train and orient the workers prior to deploying them for work in enclosed areas.

Another danger of working in confined spaces is engulfment. Presence of matters such as coal, sand and dirt, to name a few, poses a considerable risk. For instance, when an auger operates, matters such as the ones mentioned flow out of the bottom of the storage area. Matters at the top may not flow down evenly, forming what is called a temporary bridge out of the matter. When a worker walks over the surface of a bridged matter, he or she can be immediately engulfed.

Pipes through which gases and liquids pass through also present several potential risks. Valves and pipes inside confined spaces are hard to access and infrequently inspected, and leaks could instantaneously create a dangerous situation. Moreover, since materials being transported in pipes, such as steam or refrigerants, are at extreme temperatures, working in close proximity with the pipes can bring a considerable risk.

The stratified gaseous atmosphere in enclosed spaces, such as tanks, also represents danger for workers. Gases have different densities and can rise or sink relative to each other. Depending on the temperature and source of the matter, gaseous hazards may be found anywhere in an enclosed area. In order to mitigate this risk, the air must be evaluated at short intervals in a potentially stratified atmosphere, and workers should only be allowed to venture into the spaces where atmosphere has been tested.  

The foregoing situations are just a few of the potentially dangerous conditions that require a thorough evaluation before engineers and professionals are sent to work in them. Aside from what is evaluated, a keen attention should also be given to the team doing the evaluation. A company has to make sure that the group is thoroughly trained and qualified, and evaluated to perform the processes. Emergency communications should also be well defined and centralized. A phone number or emergency contact detail should be on every document or work order so the information is easily accessible in cases when it is needed.


Robert Bagatsing
Altaaqa Global
Tel: +971 56 1749505

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