Accepting, Understanding and Mitigating Risk

Operator training is just one piece of the very complex safety puzzle of biomass energy facilities.
By Anna Simet | October 31, 2019

If there is one thing that’s clear after reading the stories in this month’s edition, focused largely on fire protection and dust management, it’s that operator training is just one piece of the very complex safety puzzle of biomass energy facilities. This is an important concept for any industry process with hazardous potential, but crucial for those working with combustible wood dust.

So, whose responsibility is it to ensure employees are sufficiently equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to avoid catastrophic events? Plant management? Plant employees? Equipment manufacturers/suppliers? Regulators like OSHA or WorkSafeBC? Opinions on this seem to vary, but there isn’t a simple answer. This is evidenced in Senior Editor Ron Kotrba’s page-14 feature, “The Complex Web of Dryer Safety,” which explores the responsibility chain via numerous interviews with equipment manufacturers, safety experts and regulators. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from the piece, but one of the biggest problems with operator educating and training, points out Becky Long, an engineer at Thompson Dryers, is turnover. “We can spend time training them, but if they’re there only for a month, then the person replacing them may have no training,” she says, adding that in college, she worked at a nuclear power plant, where operators were required to have two years of training. “Biomass dryer operators require nowhere near what nuclear power plant operators require,” she says. “Society doesn’t view biomass dryers as they do nuclear power plants.”

Moving on to our page-28 contribution, “Combatting Combustible Dust Hazards,” Koda Energy Plant Manager Stacy Cook discusses in detail steps the facility took after a 2013 explosion to safeguard as much as possible against another event, as well as detailed options for other facilities seeking to reduce risks and protect employees and equipment. These types of investments, according to Cook, are well worth it. “It may be a cumbersome and expensive process on the frontend to design a system that alleviates the fear of a catastrophic loss, but it is much preferred to picking up the pieces after an event has occurred,” he says.

Even more on this topic, on page 22, you’ll find a spotlight feature, “Dealing with Combustible Dust,” for which I interviewed two leading spark detection and fire and explosion protection experts about how their companies can assist, and details for consideration at biomass energy facilities. From their perspective, safety is always two-fold: prevention, as companies handling cellulose dust face inherent risks daily—and mitigation, which means accepting that risk much deeper than its face value. Says Dave Grandaw, IEP Technologies vice president of sales, “Having a comprehensive plan to prevent explosions from happening under normal circumstances, as well as mitigation under upset conditions, is critical.”

Author: Anna Simet