Industrial Hygiene and Job Planning During Turnarounds

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By: Doug Niemtschk, CIH, CSP, Contributor

I graduated with a master’s degree in industrial hygiene in 1997. My first job out of school was working for a small consulting firm doing industrial hygiene monitoring at a turnaround in the Houston area. It was in the dead of summer, and the heat was unbearable, but I had to monitor workers nonetheless for the process chemicals to which they were potentially exposed. One chemical of concern was acrylonitrile, a chemical that was part of the process that made the company’s final product. Workers wore full chemical-protective clothing and were constantly at risk of heat stress—not to mention the chemical exposure itself.

Health exposures are like that; they rarely travel alone. Protecting workers takes upfront planning. Planning must identify various exposure risks, such as welding fumes, carbon monoxide from generators and mobile equipment, dust from handling refractory brick, radiation, hydrocarbon exposures from crude oil and its distillates—and the list goes on. It is up to the industrial hygienist (IH) to identify all of the potential exposures and have a practical plan for monitoring them. It is up to the job planner to work with the IH and make sure the necessary resources are in place to prevent overexposures from occurring.

The IH Monitoring Plan

It is important for industrial hygienists and job planners to work together, as a critical part of worker safety. (photo courtesy Adobe Stock)

The final objective of the IHs monitoring plan is to prevent workers from experiencing adverse health effects. This takes upfront job planning from both operations and safety. In this article, I will discuss some of the practical aspects that an operations manager, construction supervisor or a turnaround planner can take to work with an IH specialist in developing a sound monitoring plan for turnarounds, along with a detailed control plan.

Practical is key when it comes to controlling health exposures and planning for preventing exposures. It means integrating into the overall job plan a method that will enable the work crews to accomplish their tasks at hand in a safe and effective manner.

Let’s use the example of heat stress. As mentioned, heat stress is always a concern during a turnaround. Most turnarounds are done in the warmer times of the year, and workers typically have to wear PPE, such as flame retardant clothing (FRC). FRC is a necessity for preventing burns in the event of a flash-fire or arc-flash; however, it comes with a price.

FRC is typically a heavy fabric that may or may not breathe properly. Combine that with other outer protective clothing, such as Tyvek®, and workers can heat up if they don’t take the necessary precautions. Practically, you don’t have a choice but to wear it. Therefore, it is important to develop a heat stress prevention program prior to the turnaround.

In preventing heat stress, the job planner must integrate work-rest cycles into his planning efforts. There must be places they can cool off throughout the day. There may be the need to have cooling fans and overhead shelter, such as a tent. The job planner, along with the industrial hygienist, must determine what safe and practical looks like.

How to Mitigate Risks

Challenge yourself and recognize that most employers accomplish these types of control plans and overcome any barriers to safety. However, you do have a choice to determine how you will control the risk of exposure to the heat.

I once talked with a veteran welder who described to me a time he not only had to deal with the intense summers during a turnaround, but also the risk of developing welding fume fever—another health exposure risk. Welding fume fever is a very serious health effect that can occur during a turnaround. In this case, the welder’s employer did not have a plan for controlling the exposure. He knew this, but he felt pressured to weld, nonetheless. The job planner should have had respirators for these welders, but he didn’t. What should the job planner have done differently?

First, the job planner should have involved an IH in implementing a respirator program. However, there is a barrier that must be overcome in accomplishing this. The welder must be medically qualified to wear a respirator. Second, fit-testing the respirator and having them available on the job site, with the right cartridges or supply of breathing air, must be done. The job planner must incorporate this into his job plan and purchase or budget for all the necessary supplies and equipment. For my veteran welder, none of this was done, and he had to miss work with a fever, headache, fatigue and other common symptoms of welding fume fever. If you are the IH, make sure you are plugged into the planning process, so the controls for preventing these type incidents are implemented.

Hopefully, this article helped everyone understand some of the practical challenges faced by industrial hygienist and job planners. Their ability to work together is a critical part of worker safety. Recognize that health risks are many times overlooked until it is too late, so take the time to talk with your local IH and start planning now for the next turnaround.

[Doug Niemtschk, CIH, CSP, is Health and Safety Manager at Holly Energy Partners.]

Turnaround 411

The turnaround planner, scheduler or job planner is responsible for ensuring the jobs required to complete a turnaround are completed safely, efficiently and on-time. (photo courtesy Adobe Stock)

Turnaround Definition

A turnaround, also known as an outage, is a time when an industrial plant or manufacturing facility stops all operations for an extended period of time as part of routine maintenance. This maintenance can only be done when the machinery and equipment that are part of the overall manufacturing process are out of service. Typically, they require a large number of contractors. The facility is typically highly motivated to complete the turnaround in a timely manner, since the facility loses money the longer operations is out of service. Safety and efficiency are the keys for ensuring on-time startups of the process.

Role of a Turnaround Planner

The turnaround planner, scheduler or job planner is responsible for ensuring the jobs required to complete a turnaround are completed safely, efficiently and on-time. They do this by involving other disciplines, such as contractor supervisors, maintenance managers, and safety or industrial hygiene professionals, in a structured planning process. Without this level of planning, many jobs would not be completed safely and efficiently. This ultimately results in the failure to have an injury-free and on-time start-up.

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