It’s always a good time to check up on your facility’s safety — but now the stakes are even higher when it comes to safety violations.
Employers across the U.S. have been facing higher penalties from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) this year. In January 2019, the federal agency announced it was increasing the maximum penalty for serious and other than serious citations to $13,260 and the maximum for repeat and willful violations to $132,598.
That means conducting a safety audit is especially critical if you’ve already received citations at any company facility, since a repeat offense could trigger a costly willful violation.
When it comes to ammonia hazards, proper engineering practices and maintenance are especially important now that our industries and ammonia safety are under a national spotlight.
For years, Stellar’s refrigeration teams have focused on mitigating ammonia safety risks, visiting food facilities worldwide. Many of the safety issues we see stem from elements plant personnel have direct control over — and can correct.
Here are the 15 most common issues Stellar has seen when it comes to ammonia safety hazards in food plants (and how to correct them):
1. Poor housekeeping practices (oily or wet floors, storing items in the machine room)
Correct it: A clean area is a safe area. Ensure your floors are clean, free of oil and water, and that your ammonia machine room is not being used as a storage room.
2. Poor pipe quality beneath insulation
Correct it: Check for corrosion under insulation (CUI) by conducting spot checks, often performed during your mechanical integrity audit. Prevent pipe corrosion by using a corrosion inhibitor or stainless steel pipe.
3. Absence of adequate pipe labels or no maintenance program of labeling
Correct it: Follow International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration (IIAR) Bulletin No. 114.
4. Equipment is operated outside design parameters
Materials are generally only rated for a specific temperature range. In the refrigeration industry, users may change a setpoint from -20°F to -25°F to try and improve production or make up for lack of capacity; however, the pipe may only be rated for -20°F. Running pumps or compressors at different design conditions than intended can overload the motors.
Correct it: Operate your pumps and compressors within the designated design parameters and temperature range.
5. Failure to implement maintenance cycling program on valves
If your valves sit in one position for too long, they won’t work when you go to use them.
Correct it: “Exercise” (open and close) your valves regularly.
6. Blocked escape routes from areas with ammonia present
It may seem obvious, but don’t store a big box in front of an exit. We see this mistake often.
Correct it: Ensure escape routes are clear.
7. Operators with insufficient training of ammonia refrigeration operations and safety awareness
Correct it: Per process safety management (PSM), ensure personnel involved with the operation and maintenance of the ammonia system receive initial training and refresher training every three years.
8. Unsafe access to frequently used valves, equipment, etc. for maintenance
Correct it: Items that require maintenance should ideally be accessible from the ground (use a chain wheel). Items up high should have a catwalk or a clear path accessible via a scissor lift or ladder.
9. Leak detection systems that are either nonexistent, inoperable, not calibrated or not tied to ventilation systems
Correct it: Perform annual testing on your leak detection systems to ensure alarms work properly.
10. Uncapped open valves
Correct it: Ensure all valves open to the atmosphere have a pipe plug or cap.
11. Open oil draining valves
Because oil draining valves have a spring return, you personnel must stand in front of them and hold them open. Some personnel might take them off and just leave them open.
Correct it: Avoid this issue by utilizing self-closing, spring-loaded valves.
12. Gas mask systems are not readily accessible
Correct it: Keep your gas mask systems close to your ammonia source.
13. Heavy ice buildup on piping and components; not taking weight into consideration
Some pipes (those below 32°F) will build frost either because they are not insulated or not insulated properly. The ice will continue to thicken, adding considerable weight. Pipe supports and the building are not designed to hold this extra weight.
Correct it: Insulate your piping and components properly.
14. Not executing safety switch testing on a consistent schedule
Correct it: Conduct annual safety switch testing.
15. Open electrical cabinets
Correct it: Close your electrical cabinets to prevent risk of shock or fire.