By Andrew Perks

I have recently been out and about and was taken to an old ammonia refrigerant plant in the Eastern Cape.I have recently been out and about and was taken to an old ammonia refrigerant plant in the Eastern Cape.

It never fails to amaze me that contractors insist on sending their staff to not only non-compliant sites but ones that are downright dangerous.

Just because a plant is old doesn’t mean to say it does not need to be compliant. There is this misconception that SANS 10147 is a new regulation. However, if you look into it you will see that the SANS number is the upgrade of the old SABS 0147:1992. So, it has been around for some 27 years and as it is a sub-regulation of the OHS Act it cannot be ignored.

The OHS Act is often ignored when it comes to the practical issues of running a company where the client is the key consideration.

In section 8 of the Act the general duties of employers to their employees is laid out where it states:

  1. Every employer shall provide and maintain, as far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risk to the health of his employees.

That said, it is very clearly the responsibility of an employer to ensure that his employees are not exposed to danger.

In section 14 concerning the general duties of employees it is stated that every employee at work shall:

  1. Take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and of other persons who may be affected by his acts or omissions; the operator must accept that he has a responsibility to himself and those around him to work in a safe manner.
  2. If any situation which is unsafe or unhealthy comes to his attention, as soon as is practicable, report such a situation to his employer.

These are legal requirements but what does an employee do when he finds himself at a plant where there is no ammonia detection equipment, and no safety equipment. These are basic requirements of SANS 10147. I just hate it when we have to get legal when we try to let the client/end user know that their plant is dangerous.

The normal reply is you are just trying to push the price up again.

While we empathise with the current economic constraints we are all working under at the moment, safety is just not negotiable. So, what can we do about it?

Legally, the contractor should not be putting his staff at risk if the place of work is not deemed safe. If it’s not compliant with SANS 10147 – is it safe? Yes and no.

What about the potential if there is a release in the area escalating to a confined space incident – are there two people? That is one of the OHS Act’s confined space requirements but, of course we ignore, that possibility and only send out one technician.

There are certain compliance issues when it comes to operator safety that need to be in place. The employee can quite legally refuse to work in any area that can be deemed as unsafe.
Then of course there are the requirements of the Pressure Equipment Regulations. All pressure vessels need to be properly constructed and inspected every three years along with relief valves plus the general condition of the plant including pipework.

We as an industry received a special dispensation from the requirement of the nine years full plant pressure test in the PE Regulations. But that is only if risk-based assessments as required in SANS 10147 Annex G and H are being undertaken every three months by a suitably registered competent person.

The other issue is what are the responsibilities of a SAQCCGas Cat C Inspector when it comes to being aware of dangerous practices. With regards to the plant I mentioned in the Eastern Cape, I issued a written statement that the plant was dangerous and failing to attend to the issues raised, should there be an incident it would result in the managing director or appointed responsible person being held responsible. Once the facts are on the table there is no escaping the consequences.

So, what to do about it? We as an industry could get together, similarly to what has been done in Europe and, unless there is a programme in place to bring non-compliant plants into compliance, refuse to work on that plant. Pretty drastic steps which few of us would be willing to follow, but we need our clients as much as they need us.

I’m interested to hear your views on this prickly subject.

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