By Andrew Perks

I was recently disappointed that Covid-19 had interrupted my trip to the IIAR conference in Orlando Florida, since I was really looking forward to touching base with some of the world leaders in ammonia safety techniques and procedures.

In the US one of the really remarkable ammonia industrial training leaders is Ammonia Safety Training Institute, better known is ASTI – they are an amazing group of people, happy to reach out and help where they can. So, whilst we actually didn’t get to meet up, we are developing an online relationship.

When it comes to presentations some of their latest videos and YouTube videos are world-class. They are closely aligned with the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration -IIAR, and are currently working on drawing up a “Critical Task Guidance for an Emergency Action Plan” document.

Now this is interesting as it is a subject very close to my heart – ammonia safety.

Everyone I chat to is really worried about ammonia, and so they should be – if they do not understand how to work with it.

It’s funny that whilst I have been in this industry since 1963, I have had various problems in the course of my job but never sustained any ammonia injuries. It’s how you see it isn’t it – the cup half full or half empty?

Everything we do has risks attached, but, if you don’t know what you are doing then it becomes more dangerous – just like driving a car. Get the correct training and be prepared.

You may or may not be aware that we develop specific training courses for Ammonia Applications and have been doing so since the mid 2000s. A case in point is ‘Safe Handling of Ammonia’, which is the core material for SAQCCGas Cat A and Cat B training. Our view has always been safety as the bottom line.

You may ask: “Where is all this going?” Well, I am currently in the process of developing training material to bring safety standards to South Africa in line with IIAR and ASTI material so as to comply with OSHA 192.120 regulations.

The current problem we are facing is that management thinks that by having SAQCCGas trained artisans on site they are covered in the event of an ammonia release. Well, they are not. As I see it, the trained technician should be able to address the issue of the release, but he will be so tied up, he will not be able to address the consequences – and that’s the issue being addressed in these new guide lines.

Ammonia is a group 2 material, and all ammonia sites, irrespective of the ammonia volume on site, are being classed as major hazardous installations.

Thus, there are certain site-specific conditions that need to be adhered to. SANS 10147 is quite specific about the level of artisan/operator training required and that should be covered with SAQCCGas aligned training: The reasons for Level B and Level A technicians and plant operators; The type of safety equipment required is dictated by the volume of Ammonia in the plant; The site staff need to be trained for confined space incidents and how to specifically deal with any mmonia injuries.

All of this and more is being addressed in the Critical Task Guidance being developed.

Has anyone really ever thought about a command structure during an incident? If you have ever been in any incident you will know what I mean. People panicking, the ‘breath-taking’ smell of ammonia, not enough safety equipment, no site control. This can get very interesting – I can tell you.

We have been presenting our Ammonia Site Incident Response Training at various sites around the country, as we have written about before. That in itself brings a new look at how a site needs to respond in a worst-case scenario.

Now we are developing a First responder/plant operator training course.

Putting systems and procedures in place is where we are going with our latest training. This course covers the responsibilities and actions required of suppliers and contractors to site, and tied into the site emergency plan and work risk assessment. They are both about trying to make the people and site safer to begin with and how to effectively respond should there be any issues.

Next month I will visit this subject further. In the meantime stay safe and wear your mask!