Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Planned UK Conference to Address H&S Issues Posed by the Expansion of Anaerobic Digestion Plant Workforce

anaerobic digestion plant safety conference
Is the advent of more biogas plants, with the inevitable exposure of the workforce to biogas explosion risks, on the brink of causing more avoidable accidents?

It is already known that the waste management industry is a significantly more accident prone sector than almost any other land based activity. In fact, according to the Health & Safety Executive the waste management industry records fatal injuries at a rate of over 10 times the national average with accident rates more than four times the national average. 

Figures are not available for workers attending Anaerobic Digestion facilities, but the activities workers carry out are very similar to those in the waste management industry generally. Staff are present where vehicles discharge wastes onto slabs, much as in routine waste management industry waste handling and this is known to be a very dangerous activity.

The workers must work at height on many AD Plant installations, and there is the added hazard of tanks and stored water present. Add to this the nature of methane, which so easily catches out the unwary. It will most times be unlikely to explode as it dissipates rapidly, but this breeds lax behaviour, such that when it does strike it often causes multiple deaths.
Remember the Abbeystead explosion in 1984 (http://www.landfill-gas.com/html/landfill_gas_explosions.html ) where 16 water company officials and local dignitaries were killed while being shown around a new pumping station in the lake district of the UK? That was a methane explosion and the force was such that it clean took the roof off the structure. It was no normal roof either. This was a buried pumping station sunk beneath the ground in a scenic area!
The possibility of that happening may have been one in a million, you might say. I would say that rare occurrences will happen, and there have been others. If anyone was to ask the families of those killed whether it would have been worthwhile taking more care to analyse the explosion risk before the event, I am certain I know the answer.
 With anaerobic digestion facilities in use and in construction, a workforce with little, if any, knowledge of the specific risks of AD plants is growing in size. This must also be rapidly increasing the likelihood of serious AD plant accidents across the UK.
Could an Abbeystead-like explosion happen again, with similar loss of life? Yes, it could unless action is taken now.
The health and safety of a growing work force is an issue which project developers, local authorities, the waste industry, farmers and the renewable energy industry need to take very seriously.
Now that these new technologies are moving into the mainstream, it is important to avoid the pitfalls which come with lack of experience and training.  According to LAWR, Stephen Williams, Head of Operational Strategy, at the HSE said that; 
“the waste and recycling sector needs to look at best practice in other industries to see how health and safety has improved and learn the lessons”. 
The gas industry has its own regulations and specialist inspectors, and there are numerous other parallels. The Waste Management Industry (landfill and LFGTE sectors) has its own guidance documents known as their ICoPs available on the esaeuk.org website (See http://www.esauk.org/reports_press_releases/esa_reports/.) There is clearly a need for similar guidance to be compiled for AD installations.

Are you involved in Anaerobic Digestion plant design, installation or operation? If so, you can make a difference by taking this health and safety risk seriously. Bring yourself up to speed rapidly by listening to some of the best H&S thinkers and presenters, by attending the following conference:

Health, Safety and Environmental Management in Anaerobic Digestion

Date: 17 Oct 2012
Location: Harper Adams University College, Shropshire

Health and Safety Management in Anaerobic Digestion organised by Recycling and Waste World Conferences is designed to enable AD project managers to develop robust systems and practical skills to ensure the safety of their workforce, from the environmental planning process through to the commissioning and running of the plant.  

With improved health, safety and environmental standards, benefits include plants that run more efficiently, therefore saving money, as well as further investment in the field of anaerobic digestion. 

Key programme topics covered at the conference will include:

·          Environmental permitting and licensing
·          Legal requirements and guidelines
·          Risk assessment and management systems
·          Key dangers and risks
·          Staff training and skills

 PLUS: - Attendees will be given the opportunity to attend a site visit to the fully operational AD plant on-campus at the Harper Adams University College.

If you still need convincing that a problem exists we suggest that you check out the following article links from previous articles from this blog: 

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