Why a Site Visit Is Critical to Outage Planning

Visiting the plant helps you identify needs and spot potential problems.

Thorough planning is essential to every plant outage to minimize disruption to production, limit costs and keep the outage as short as possible. While much of the preparation can be done in the office, nothing can take the place of a site visit early in the planning process, well before the plan is locked down. 

RELATED: Safety Tips for Managing a Plant Turnaround or Shutdown 

Walking through areas where maintenance and repair work will take place can help you identify job hazards, lockout/tagout requirements, permit requirements, barricade requirements and more. Seeing the physical location and its realities with your own eyes helps you focus on details that are easy to overlook on an electronic plan or schematic. It gives you a better feel for how the work will be done and the challenges it will pose.

For example, by watching the current workflow in and around an outage area, you can determine the optimal location for temporary equipment. A location that looks good on a plan may not work well because it blocks a route that’s used frequently by employees, for instance.

During your site visit, consider:

  • Any additional safety precautions: New protocols or safety implementations should be taken into consideration. 
  • The size and shape of temporary equipment you’re going to bring into the plant for the outage. Look for potential space conflicts with other equipment or operations in every direction, including overhead.
  • The size and location of anybarricades you’ll need to separate the shutdown area from the rest of the plant’s operations. How high will they need to be to provide that separation without affecting ongoing operations?
  • Areas where contractors will overlap. Would two contractors need to erect scaffolding in the same area at the same time, for example? Can using cross-trained contractors solve the problem?
  • The lockout/tagout process you’ll use to ensure that equipment being worked on is disabled (not powered) during the turnaround.
  • Where you’ll need line breaks and thus the number of permits you’ll need for that work.
  • Whether people will be working in confined spaces. If so,OSHA confined space standards around training and rescue plans apply. 
  • Requirements for working at height. If the job will require the use of equipment your workers don’t normally use, such as scaffolds or aerial lifts (aka Mobile Elevating Work Platforms), you’ll need to make sure they have the necessary training
  • Travel paths. How will you get subcontractors to the outage area with the least possible disruption to ongoing work?

Proper outage planning takes years. The time spent on a site visit is a drop in the bucket — yet the return on investment can be immense. Seeing is believing, and unless you see for yourself the physical realities around which you need to plan, you may neglect to account for them. When you can “see” the outage project in the physical space it will occupy, you gain valuable insights that will help you not only keep the outage on schedule and on budget but also increase safety, ensure compliance and prevent “I wish I’d thought of that sooner” syndrome. 

Freelance writer Mary Lou Jay writes about business and technical developments in a variety of industries. She has been covering residential and commercial construction for more than 25 years.

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