Simplifying Safety During Planned Shutdowns

Single source for safety-related products and services can reduce complexity and cost of planned STOs.
By Chris McKinnon | June 08, 2016

Planned shutdowns, turnarounds and outages (STOs) often are scheduled for preventative maintenance and new equipment installation that must be performed to keep an ethanol plant running and in regulatory compliance. To minimize production downtime, this work must be completed within a tight time frame. As such, STOs often are feats of engineering, planning and coordination, work that begins many months, even years, before the event.

Safety is at the top of the list during any planned shutdown. To prevent injury or loss of life, reduce liability and keep insurance rates in check, safety departments must provide the required safety training, products and services that will ensure that all on-site personnel and company assets are protected throughout the operation. 

“Safety comes first,” says Clay Sharpe, Power Plant Field Services safety manager. “Our crews are trained in safety measures for the work they perform, whether a scheduled outage or an emergency repair. It is our philosophy to make every effort to ensure that potential accidents never happen. We begin every shift with a plan to work safely.” Power Plant Services is a turnkey, aftermarket manufacturer and service provider to the ethanol, power generation, refineries, steel and chemical industries. PPS performs emergency work as well as planned outages throughout the world.

Managing all that encompasses “safety” for an STO, however, is often a feat of its own.

During an STO, a typical ethanol plant can see its ranks swell by dozens of additional workers, depending on the plant’s size and the work being done. Safety departments and contractors providing turnkey services must properly equip, train and provide rescue and standby emergency services.  This often requires managing multiple vendors of safety products and services as well as workers who are not familiar with the facility or its processes, yet are performing challenging, even high-risk tasks.
To eliminate a point of complexity and coordination in an already complicated process, some ethanol plant safety departments and equipment service contractors are outsourcing to a single, combined safety service provider that can deliver the gamut of safety-related products and services. 

The benefit of this one-stop-shop approach for a planned shutdown is the single point of coordination, reduction in facility personnel required to manage the safety effort, access to extensive safety expertise and technical knowledge, potential cost savings on basic and more advanced personal protective equipment (PPE) and ability to respond quickly to unexpected situations or emergencies.

Safety First
Despite the focus on speedy return-to-service, plants that have participated in planned shutdowns will attest that the primary emphasis is not how fast the work is completed, but rather ensuring the safety of all involved. This is not mere lip service, but the prime directive, even if that means going over budget or delaying the project. “Safety is number one,” says Kevin Nadolski, safety director at Duke & Duke Services. “Well before any of the work starts, the project managers are holding safety meetings and orienting employees on safety. This occurs both before and during the project, with managers reviewing daily reports about how many personnel are working, what they are doing and if any are hurt, they want to know exactly what happened.”

As safety director, Nadolski has utilized a number of PPE providers and safety service companies during his career. Duke & Duke Services provides installation and maintenance of conveyor systems, bulk handling equipment, presses, cranes, robotics and other automated machinery, often used during STOs at ethanol facilities. He acknowledges that the concept of a single, combined safety service provider is novel in an industry where suppliers generally keep to well-defined market segments with minimal overlap. Large PPE providers, for example, offer catalogs with thousands of products, but rarely offer safety services and vice versa.

As a PPFS safety manager, the field services affiliate of PPS, Sharpe has a high awareness of the risks that exist in field services, when crews of workers travel to plants across the U.S and abroad. Outages typically involve disassembly, inspection, component repair or replacement and then reassembly of equipment.

 “The type of work we perform in the field is often potentially dangerous,” Sharpe says. We have many methods we can choose from to reduce the possibility of injury to our workers. First, we attempt to eliminate the hazard.  If that is not possible, we resort to controls on the work processes and directing various types of safety equipment to be used.”

Outsourcing Safety
In some cases PPFS will outsource specific services from a vendor. “This is generally a service we contract on an as-needed basis,” Sharpe says. “And we need to know they will provide qualified workers who are fully aware of high-risk situations and have the equipment and expertise to handle an emergency.”

Sharpe says PPFS recently outsourced a portion of its safety project to DXP Safety Services. “We contracted DXP to provide safety services for a confined space situation, which is a hazardous location where people possibly could get trapped,” Sharpe explains. “In confined space situations, you are sometimes required to have attendants and rescue teams with specialized equipment. DXP’s rescue teams are specialized, such as high-angle rescue and rope rescue. They had every possible scenario covered.”

DXP Services is a multinational company that has grown significantly while aggressively pursuing new acquisitions.  The company now operates as a single provider of combined safety products and services for plant turnarounds. In addition to an extensive catalog of PPE items, the company maintains a large asset base of equipment including powered air trailers, supplied air trailers, emergency showers, eye wash equipment, maintenance-repair-operations-production trailers,  fire trucks and ambulances.

DXP also offers a comprehensive list of services, including safety training and supervision, confined space attendants and rescue teams, high angle rescue teams, rope rescue, gas detection, respiratory fit testing, audiometric testing, industrial hygiene, industrial medical services, fall protection and repair services.

In 2015, Nadolski estimated he outsourced more than a dozen times for onsite safety supervision, emergency response, confined space attendants and supplied air trailers. He also utilized these specialty companies to train employees that must complete annual confined space training. “What I appreciate most is that when they send their guys out for rescue work, I know they are well-trained,” says Nadolski.  “I still spot check them and ask them ‘what do you do if this happens?’ questions, but they know it right off the bat. I don’t always get that with other safety services.”

Single-Source Benefits
The benefits of a one-stop-shop approach to safety begin well before the STO.  As part of the preplanning, a safety advisor from a combined service provider meets with facility safety and maintenance personnel to learn about their existing procedures and processes. For shorter projects this meeting can be two to four weeks beforehand or for a more complex project, 12 to 18 months in advance.

The safety advisor then evaluates and monitors safety hazards and control strategies to ensure compliance with the facility’s safety rules, policies, programs, criteria and procedures as well as all governmental regulations. 

Given the unique requirements of each facility, there are no one-size-fits-all safety plans, so each project is client-specific.  In addition, the scope of involvement can be scaled from a single worker to a complete program for the entire scope of the STO.

Another benefit to this approach is the ability to react to unexpected situations or emergencies. Although a tremendous amount of planning goes into a planned shutdown there inevitably are situations, requirements for specialized equipment, unexpected air quality issues and even injuries that can leave safety personnel scrambling. With the breadth and scope of its expertise, a combined safety services company can tap into its resources quickly to resolve the situation.

In this regard, Nadolski says he relies on these single-service safety companies to serve as an extra pair of “eyes” on the ground when he is not at the site.  “We have been in situations where we have needed something safety-related on the spot and DXP was able to take care of it for us.”

The single-service safety providers he has used has performed as a team of experts with a full complement of safety equipment and expertise that provided a single-source, turnkey service, Sharpe says. “They were very professional and took care of the project without requiring supervision, which was exactly what we needed,” he says. “I’m very pleased with their professional attitude and services.”   

Author:  Chris McKinnon
Vice president, DXP Safety Services