Wouldn’t it be great to have a built-in camera to let you see exactly what went wrong before an incident? In many manufacturing instances there is, chemical plants especially. The computer system that operates the plant is called a Distributed Control System (DCS) and it has the capacity to monitor thousands of process variables (flow rates, temperatures, pressures, levels, valve positions, pumps on/off) simultaneously.
The thirty-thousand-foot view of manufacturing is raw material in, alter in an appropriate fashion, finished product out, by-product out. Since the finished product keeps a business in business, it gets the most attention. What about by-products or waste streams? Read More
Fire. Something about fire touches our brainstems…both good and bad! Uncontrolled fire is terrifying and deadly to be sure. But the controlled burning of wood at a campfire or in a fireplace in your home almost can’t be beat, to my mind! For that very reason, a fairly common amenity to houses nowadays is the gas log fireplace insert.
When not installed properly, these logs will generate soot. These soot particles can leave the fireplace and meander. All. Over. Your. House. Read More
Remember the good old days when our homes were built with only lumber, dry-wall, and roofing? Me neither. However, we talk about ‘modern’ construction materials like this is a new phenomenon. The truth is ‘modern’ construction materials started sneaking into homes over fifty years ago. It’s not only construction materials that have changed: a century ago, we furnished our houses with wood, cloth, metal, and glass. Today, it’s plastics, foams, and coatings.
In February of 1992, the OSHA Process Safety Management (PSM) standard was issued. The official title is: ‘Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals.’ As its title implies, not every facility is covered by this rigorous standard. A process must contain highly hazardous, as defined by OSHA, chemicals above a certain weight threshold, again defined by OSHA. Notice that this is a process by process determination, so there could be certain processes at a manufacturing facility that are not covered by this standard situated beside other processes that are.
When thinking about the safe operation of boilers (and don’t we all?), several systems can readily be named; flame control, fuel/air ratio; steam pressure control, levels in the vessel, etc. What about the water? It seems so passive, as long as there is enough for level control, what’s the big deal? Well, it turns out, that as the steam produced by a boiler is used in the process, the condensate from that steam is returned to the boiler as feedwater. However, since 100% of the condensate is not returned, whatever solids had been in that water before it evaporated to form steam are left in the remaining water. Fresh feedwater is added to maintain levels, but even fresh water contains some dissolved solids. So over time, the water in the boiler system gets saturated with all sorts of dissolved minerals.
On December 3, 1984, at a pesticide ingredient manufacturing facility owned by Union Carbide, a leak occurred in the Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) plant. Due to the toxic nature of the gases released and the plant’s proximity to local residences, the death toll was in the thousands; both plant workers and nearby residents. The first recorded public meeting in response to this incident was on December 9th, in Institute, WV, the site of Union Carbide’s only US MIC production unit. Full disclosure: my father was a research & development chemist for Union Carbide and Institute is about 10 miles down the Kanawha River from my hometown of Charleston, WV. Read More
According to the OSHA regulations, a confined space is anyplace that meets the following criteria:
(1) Is large enough and so configured that an employee can bodily enter and perform assigned work; and
(2) Has limited or restricted means for entry or exit; and
(3) Is not designed for continuous employee occupancy. Read More
The first hazard that comes to mind when thinking about large scale ovens and steam kettles is burning or scalding injury. Carbon monoxide poisoning is just as dangerous but less understood, so oftentimes proper prevention methods are not followed. In the United States, this results in over 20,000 emergency room visits and over 400 deaths a year. Before we get to the case study and poisoning prevention methods, we need to know what CO is, where it comes from, and why it is poisonous. Read More
As a senior at Virginia Tech, I was told that ChemE’s were little more than glorified plumbers. Looking back, I’m pretty sure it was to keep our geek-egos in check. It was an effective tool! However, as I grew and traveled as a professional, it became an effective descriptor; applying to a larger scale and using a modifier or two for specific applications. So, if you have a loss that falls into one of the categories below, a ChemE could be the expert you need. Read More