Preventing accidents with thermal fluid safety protocols

Global Heat Transfer

Thursday, 15 February, 2024

Preventing accidents with thermal fluid safety protocols

How can health and safety protocols contribute to a safer and more effective work environment when working with thermal fluids, and what specific measures should be taken to prevent accidents? TIM POWELL, a thermal oil specialist at Global Heat Transfer, takes a look.

Manufacturers often use heat transfer systems to reach and maintain the high temperatures required for a variety of indirect heat transfer processes. Facilities traditionally invested in steam-based systems because water is affordable, seemingly sustainable and easy to source. However, to reach the temperatures required in industrial processing, the system must operate at very high pressures — and without a way to effectively vent the steam, the pipes could burst.

Alternatively, thermal fluids can be designed for specific applications so that they safely maintain temperatures at a lower rate of pressure for both heating and cooling applications — ranging from -90 to +600°C. While these fluids are safer than steam, and are designed to provide years of effective use, facilities that use heat transfer fluids must still take proactive measures to extend fluid lifespan and ensure safety.

Managing risk

Heat transfer fluid will provide a great service for many years, but as it reaches the end of its lifespan it will degrade, reducing thermal fluid efficiency and introducing by-products to the system. Relevant regulations stipulate how health and safety managers can reduce the likelihood of risks associated with degradation, but this is often easier said than done. This is because once thermal fluid enters the heat transfer system, it is no longer visible. Therefore any issues may go unnoticed until they have an impact upon production.

To effectively manage risk, health and safety managers should work closely with thermal fluid specialists in order to track fluid condition. Engineers should take a closed thermal fluid sample when the system is hot, live and circulating to provide an accurate representation of the fluid inside. Quarterly sampling and thermal fluid analysis enables engineers to outline its condition. Health and safety managers, alongside production and engineering managers, can use these results to track condition over time and adapt procedures accordingly to reduce the risk of incidents caused by using degraded fluid.

Facilities can also invest in remote condition monitoring to further improve proactive maintenance, giving them real-time data that enables engineers to extend the safe and efficient use of thermal fluid for longer periods.

Maintaining the facility

While the engineers will monitor fluid and system condition to maintain uptime, health and safety managers can also introduce protocols around the site to keep workers safe.

Encouraging good housekeeping not only aids productivity, but it can also enhance safety. For example, taking steps to clear pathways and remove electric cables are quick ways to remove trip hazards onsite. Health and safety managers should also place spill kits and personal protective equipment (PPE) in close proximity to the system and ensure workers know where the equipment is so they can act quickly in case of an emergency. In addition, health and safety managers can commission thermal fluid experts to conduct site surveys and risk assessments to check the facility and recommend any areas for improvement.

When working with potentially dangerous and flammable substances, such as thermal fluid, health and safety managers should ensure that teams pay close attention to any oil outside of the system, often caused by leaks or waste oil spills. Any spillages should be cleaned up immediately — leaving these unattended can increase the risk of slips, trips and fires.

Further, introducing signage with information on safety procedures is key to regulatory compliance. Labelling flammable materials, high voltage areas and other hazards is vital, while other signage assists with outlining the best and safest procedures.

Training matters

Educating staff, both existing and new, on the importance of safety measures, as well as best practices for aspects like thermal fluid monitoring, is integral to heat transfer maintenance.

Training the team on proactive maintenance ensures there is always someone onsite who can effectively react to any issues immediately, keeping everyone in the facility safe.

Proactive measures, such as liaising with thermal fluid specialists about regular fluid sampling, effective facility maintenance and comprehensive staff training, are essential for extending the lifespan of thermal fluid. By implementing these strategies, health and safety managers can mitigate potential hazards, ensure a safe working environment when working with thermal oils and help maintain compliance with local regulations.

Image: Supplied.

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