Accidents are on the decline, but preventable injuries still occur.
A power plant is an inherently dangerous place to work. When an accident happens, a well-trained, valued employee may lose time from work on the job. In addition, a large-scale accident can cause an outage that results in lost revenue and fines.
Power plant personnel have become keenly aware of the need for safety.
Nevertheless, preventable accidents still happen. Workers may forget to wear or choose not to wear the right PPE, which can result in burns, crushed toes and other injuries. A worker may decide to save time and move a heavy object without asking for help, leading to a back injury.
- Improving a safety culture to help prevent safety incidents starts with actions like these:
- Increase employee awareness about safety measures and accident causes. No one working in a power plant should take safety lightly.
- Hold monthly safety meetings that focus on a topic such as ladder safety, fire prevention or PPE.
- Conduct monthly training sessions that give employees the knowledge and confidence to respond quickly to accidents, contact emergency responders and save lives by using CPR and/or an AED.
- Provide training materials that test worker knowledge about safety.
- Increase company-wide communications about proper safety practices to help prioritize safety at all times.
- Perform routine safety audits.
- Conduct weekly safety walk-arounds of facilities and equipment to ensure compliance with standards.
In addition, your safety department can translate measurable data into actions that lead to accident prevention. For example, data may show that accidents happen during a particular shift or occur repeatedly because of a certain type of task.
Common causes of plant accidents
Keeping in mind some of the top causes of accidents can help safety officers and managers focus on high-value prevention efforts. Common causes include:
Slips, trips and falls. Power plants are clean facilities. Routine inspections keep materials from collecting around doorways and stairwells. Sometimes, however, employees become overconfident and don’t use handrails. They may block their own field of vision with materials they’re carrying and lose their footing. And, surfaces can become slippery.
Tips: Companies should mark uneven surfaces, use non-slip treads on stairs, place mats in walkways that can become slippery and verify the proper installation of railings.
Electrical accidents. Electrical accidents can shock and burn employees. Also, the initial shock can lead to other accidents, such as a fall from a ladder. Arc flash accidents can occur with the drop of a screwdriver, and even if workers in the immediate hazard area are wearing the proper PPE. If workers outside the area aren’t wearing flame resistant clothing, they may suffer burns, since a flash can reach beyond ten feet.
Tips: Only qualified employees should maintain or repair electrical systems. Post warning signs around electrical systems and arc flash hazards, use barriers to keep untrained workers away from the systems and use established lock-out/tag-out procedures.
Exposure to hot surfaces. Workers performing routine maintenance on boilers, feeder and riser tubes, superheaters, reheaters or steam pipes risk exposure to hot surfaces and can experience second- and third-degree burns.
Tips: Use signs to warn workers about these hazards and barriers to keep employees away from hot surfaces. Companies should also have procedures that limit entry to specific areas and require equipment shutdown before work proceeds. Proper PPE, such as heat-resistant gloves, sleeves and clothing, is always the last line of defense against hazards.
Mechanical hazards. During routine daily operations, workers often need to maintain energized equipment. At the very least, cuts and abrasions can occur if workers don’t take the proper precautions. Careless behaviors around operating equipment can lead to crushed fingers. Clothing pulled into a gear assembly can result in serious, crushing injuries.
Tips: Companies can prevent these injuries by inspecting equipment and ensuring that all equipment has the proper guards, barriers and panic switches installed. Training sessions and materials should reinforce the correct use of equipment and wearing the right PPE.
Chemical hazards. Power plant workers may routinely use cleaners, lubricants, cutting oils and solvents that contain hazardous chemicals.
Tips: Preventing exposure to chemical hazards begins with a review of the Safety Data Sheets (SDS), which should be made readily available. Training on chemical hazards and proper PPE is paramount.