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Restarting Workplace Pressure Systems Safely

There are seemingly countless factors to take into consideration as organisations attempt to tread back towards normalcy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Whether it be considering who to physically bring back to work, how to arrange the workspace itself or understanding ways to maximise safety, management and leadership have plenty to think about. Some businesses must also consider certain specific equipment on their premises that may be in need of attention or maintenance after an extended period of disuse.

For many businesses, such as cafes or manufacturing companies, pressure systems are a particularly important piece of the puzzle that should be closely analysed in order to provide the best chance of a safe and successful resumption of operations.

Understanding the Equipment

Pressure systems are often found in a number of different types of machines commonly found in various workplaces. Equipment that uses pressure systems may include:

  • Steam boilers or cleaners
  • Industrial refrigeration systems
  • Air compressors and receivers
  • Hydraulic cylinders
  • Articulated jibs
  • Cafe boilers
  • Solvent recovery vessels forming part of the dry-cleaning process

When examining these pieces of equipment, or others that use pressure systems, it is important that you take precautions, particularly if the relevant parts have exceeded their examination period. Your organisation should consult with a competent adviser before restarting the machine. Click here for more safety guidance on the subject.

Knowing the Dangers

Machines that contain pressure systems have a number of potential risks that could result in damage to the equipment or your workplace, or personal injury to your employees. Contamination of gases or fluids inside the machine may cause pressure elements to behave unpredictably, resulting in:

  • Water ingress—External temperature changes may cause condensation to form inside steam vessels, which may lead to an explosion or other violent reaction.
  • Air ingress—The degradation of hydraulic cylinders or other parts may permit air to be drawn and lead to creep or unintended movement of mechanical parts.
  • Internal structural corrosion—The cooling of steam systems may result in the formation of pools of condensation in the base of vessels.
  • Bypass of safety devices—If pipework is incorrectly reassembled following cleaning, these safeguards may be bypassed and, when solvents are involved, an explosion may occur.

Handling the Pressure

Due to the potentially severe consequences of improperly restarting equipment that contains a pressure system, it is of the utmost importance that your organisation take precautions during the restart process. In addition to the safety of your employees, the functionality and lifespan of expensive machinery may also be at risk. Starting up any pressure system from a completely shutdown state can have major consequences. When restarting a pressure system, consider the following steps:

  • Warm up steam systems gradually in order to prevent steel or cast iron components from cracking.
  • Closely inspect and test pressure relief valves that contain mechanical spring mechanisms. It is possible that these safety devices may have seized or fatigued as a result of being consistently compressed for an extended period of time. If you have any concerns about these devices, replace them.
  • Understand that hydraulic fluids will be more viscous when cold. As such, parts may appear to move more slowly and operating controls may experience a longer response time.
  • Be careful if hydraulic systems have been left turned on. The continuous recirculation of fluid may mean that it has experienced a significant temperature increase. The unintended release of the fluid, or a hose failure, would result in the spraying of hot oil.

Beyond these specific precautions, your organisation should also take other precautionary steps in examining machines with pressure systems, including inspecting specific pieces of the equipment in question, such as hoses, pipework and controls. It is also advisable that a detailed inspection of the overall structural integrity of the equipment is conducted to check for leaks or cracks, and that the machine be assessed for other possible risk factors, such as the potential for flying fragments or missiles that may be discharged in the event of a malfunction and subsequent explosion.

If you’re looking for business insurance, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today. Call us on 01925 711500 and a member of our specialist team be more than happy to help.

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