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Can your safety procedures be improved?

By Ronnie Meyers

To best protect your employees, always look for ways to improve established safety procedures. Don’t assume what’s in place is as good as it gets. I am an HSE manager at a chemical plant, and we recently changed two safety protocols for one of the most dangerous environments for workers: confined spaces.

Your most valuable resources are your human resources.

Without them, your business doesn’t function.

We had a man working in a confined space, and we followed safety procedures requiring someone to be posted at the entry portal to monitor conditions inside the vessel. The man in the vessel came out, saying that he suddenly felt lethargic. The worker at the entry portal checked the monitor and reported there was no issue. The man was sent back in and nearly passed out because the oxygen level had dropped below 19.5 percent.

Though workers had used flanges to blind the vessel, it wasn’t done as closely as possible to the work area. This allowed other workers to unknowingly access valves in between the worker and the blind. They released nitrogen into the vessel to clean it, which caused the oxygen levels to drop dangerously low for the worker inside.

This incident was a close call that could have ended tragically. We assessed our safety plan for confined spaces, and found two ways to improve it:

  • We now give each person working in a confined space a personal monitor. Monitoring at the entry portal can’t always account for conditions deeper inside the vessel. Had the worker in the confined space had his own monitor, he would have known immediately that he needed to get out.
  • Blinding must be done as close as possible to the worker in the confined space. This has always been something of an “unwritten” industry rule, and as such, it was often disregarded when circumstances made it easier to blind in another area. Blinding as close as possible is now our official procedure in all cases.

To ensure your employees are safe on the job, it must be understood by every level of management that safety rules need to be adaptable. As situations arise, it’s important to reassess safety plans and see if there is room for improvement. Having a positive safety culture is an important aspect of reassessing rules. Employees who feel supported by management will be more likely to come forward with valuable input and suggestions. Stay tuned for tips on establishing a strong, positive culture of safety.