By Andrew Perks

In my last article I spoke of the need for PPE and some of the questions relating to why we must be aware of the situation around us at all times and use the suitable PPE for the risk profile on hand.

Also read: PPE – what is it really all about?

We really do need to do regular risk assessments whenever we are doing hazardous work. Look at when we drive our car – we buckle up as a matter of course. I suppose because we can be punished by the law if we don’t, so it has just become a habit. I know in my car, if I don’t buckle up, the car gets all upset and tells me to do so. But it really is to protect us in case the unexpected happens and we become involved in an accident or incident.

Before we start any work, we should do a PPE assessment after conducting a risk assessment to identify tasks involved, and where they are impacted by other extraneous events. Once we have established all the risks, we should then be able to compile a list of the PPE for the job. That said, now we need to physically check and inspect the equipment.

Take working with ammonia – it is both hazardous and toxic, so we need to be sure to be protected. SANS 10147 specifies the level of PPE to be available depending on the quantity of ammonia on the site.

There is your first level of site PPE which is an appropriate full set of overalls (a tee shirt, shorts and flip flops just doesn’t cut it), safety shoes – if it’s possible that you will be coming into contact with ammonia your normal steel toe caps will not suffice. Liquid ammonia will go right through leather or composite footwear. You will need to have steel toe cap rubber boots. Then of course there is a hard hat and hearing protection. All basic PPE.

“There should be a regular recorded onsite inspection program of safety equipment to ensure that the required equipment is in fact there and to check that it functions.”

Plants with below a 500kg ammonia charge required a second level of PPE which is two sets of face masks and cannisters, along with rubber gloves, suitable for buddy/buddy operation. It is assumed that whoever is wearing this safety equipment will have had appropriate training on how to don the equipment and to check that it functions correctly. Don’t think that it is just simply a case of pulling on the gas mask and away you go. You firstly need to check whether the cannister is within its expiry date, then you need to see that it seals properly on your face by covering the air intake with your hand to see if you can still breathe. If you can you will end up inhaling ammonia if you get into an ammonia rich environment.

For ammonia plants with more than 500kg we need to have a third level of site PPE which includes two sets of breathing apparatus (BA) each with a spare fully charged (270-300 bar air pressure). Each BA set is to have a level B chemical suit, rubber boots, rubber gloves, a lifeline and duct tape to seal up the gloves and boots to the suit.

Let me tell you, it is very hot inside these chemical suits and you sweat profusely. Ammonia just loves water and if it can get into your suit, you will soon know about it. My one and only time I put on a chemical suit, I had no clue and as I walked into the plant room full of ammonia the BA set started to whistle at me. Would have been nice to know that this was telling me I only had 5 minutes of air left. That was back in the day where nobody did training – that little outing could have killed me. Make sure that the appropriate people on site are trained and know how to use the equipment.

It’s important that, every time, before starting to do any work where you may interfere with the ammonia pressure envelope, you check out the site’s other safety equipment, its location and that it is functional. The person I spoke of previously that got ammonia onto his face from the Witt pump blow out, only found out that the eye wash station had not been used for quite a while, and when he needed it ended up with rusty water and pieces of metal in his eyes. Not good. He should have checked that all the safety equipment that was identified in the risk assessment was to hand and functional.

There should be a regular recorded onsite inspection program of safety equipment to ensure that the required equipment is in fact there and to check that it functions.

I never go past a safety shower assembly without checking to see it works and the water runs clear. When I do a SANS audit, I always check to see that the air pressure in the set is never less than 270 bar, I got caught once – never again.

Hindsight is an exact science I know, but forward planning will always be first priority. The guy with the Witt pump thought it would never happen to him, but it did – he was lucky his injuries cleared up in just over two weeks.