Welcome to the Solution Spotlight edition of our Chemical Processing Distilled podcast. Solution Spotlight, delving deeper into a topic from an industry perspective. I'm Traci Purdum, executive editor of Chemical Processing. And in this episode, we're going to try and get our arms around understanding and addressing risks and how proper equipment and training are key for safe operation in hazardous areas. Joining me to share his expertise is Ryan Brownlee, Global Compliance and Technology Consultant with Pepperl+Fuchs. In that role, he provides guidance in regard to current and new technology and product compliance trends for industrial automation applications, especially for those targeting hazardous or classified areas. Thanks for joining me, Ryan.
Ryan: Hey Traci, thanks for having me.
Traci: Now I think we need to get our definition straight from the get go. So let's detail what you mean by current and new technology, at least for this conversation.
Ryan: Sure. So current and new technology has to do some with products and stuff that are out on the market. Some of it has to do with changes in the standards and the regulations. And so my role within Pepperl+Fuchs is to be aware of the various standards, the various practices, some of the equipment that's out on the market and provide that insight to our staff and others so that they're aware of those changes and can make sure that they're deploying equipment properly.
Traci: Important to have a point person like that. So that's terrific. Now, chemical facilities, they have obvious risks due to the nature of some of the processes, but there are less obvious risks. How can both be identified?
They certainly can possibly recognize areas that might be unsafe and you can address that. Another important thing I think is to making sure that you don't assume that one size fits all, understanding the risks and making sure that the equipment that you're using is actually designed for that application to mitigate the risks that you're after. An example that I can give would be recognizing that just because a piece of equipment is okay to use in a hydrogen atmosphere, which is a very dangerous atmosphere to have, doesn't mean that it's automatically okay for say a benign dust atmosphere or a more benign dust atmosphere from a certain aspects because the protection concepts that you would use in hydrogen aren't going to be necessarily address the issues for dust. So don't assume that everything is one size fits all and just understanding your processes, what's involved with them, and making sure that you're handling those things appropriately.
Traci: Now obviously, you're talking about being prepared and preparation is key when we're managing risks, but what is the best way to educate and protect the workforce? Sometimes they don't realize what risks are there. They understand the risks in their own little area, but you're talking sometimes if they go into different areas, there are different risks. What's the best way to disseminate all of that knowledge?
Ryan: So the best way would be the way that works. So I don't know if I could say this way is going to be the best for every facility, but it would certainly start with proper training of the personnel, both for new hires. And I'd say a lot of companies are really good at training new hires. They recognize, hey, we have an individual that's not familiar with our facility. And even a lot of companies, when you're going onto their site to visit, you have to go through a certain amount of training before you're allowed even on their site. And so new hires, new people are a little bit more obvious to get that training. What I have seen lacking sometimes is a role change. So somebody's been with company A for 10 years and they move to a different role and that new role comes with different requirements, different safety risks, and because they've been there for forever, a lot of times companies just assume, oh, they know what they need to do in that role. Otherwise, they wouldn't be moving to that role. And that's not always that case.
And so I would say make sure that you have a plan in place to train all of your employees when they move around to different locations, to different roles and making sure that they understand. Mentoring is a good way to help solidify that safety, making sure that people that have been in a role or in an area are sharing that knowledge with the newbies and you just can't generally knock home the necessary safety aspects in a 30-minute safety video. You need to have that mindset. Some other ways that you go about it is making sure that you have proper procedures and making sure that people follow them and just making sure that that's an important mindset. A lot of people will get complacent with the jobs that they do and the safety aspects. And that's usually how accidents happen. It's because people get complacent, get comfortable with whatever it is that they're working with.
I can give a great example here that probably all of us have seen. And if you go on YouTube you probably can find some videos of it going bad when you fill up your car with fuel, just about every gas pump that I've ever been to says don't get back in your car. And why is that? Well, it's because you can build up the static charge on your person that then when you go back to the fuel pump, you run the risk of igniting those vapors and stuff that may be coming off of that fuel pump. And there's plenty of videos out there that show that. So you just get complacent with it because we see people do it all the time, especially in the winter. It's a risk. Another great way is to just have a mindset of safety within your company. There's always going to be some safety risk, but often, worker safety is compromised when other factors of business come in as a driving force.
And so while we can't remove all risk, there's no need to take a needless risk in a situation just to drive home certain things. There's lots of industrial accidents that have happened needlessly because people were more worried about meeting a quota or had pressure to get the work done and they would just ignore warning signs or equipment or maybe even their gut to just get through.
To me, another important thing is good documentation for your facility and making sure that you have that on hand and don't rely on the internet at a later point in time for the equipment that you have, saying, "Oh, well. We know that the manuals and all this stuff is on the manufacturer's website. We can get it if we ever need it at time at a later time." Because that may not necessarily be true. Companies come, companies go. Websites change. Manuals get updated all the time and it may not be applicable even if the model name is the same. It may not necessarily be a hundred percent applicable to the equipment that you've installed 5, 10, 15 years ago. So keeping good records of all that stuff and making sure that you understand what you have in your facility, how it was put together and having good maintenance records is all important, I think, as far as managing and assessing those risks and keeping people as safe as possible.
Traci: Indeed. Management of change is paramount just to keep everybody on the same level playing field. And when you mentioned the scenario at the gas station, I was thinking that right before you said it. And certain things that we do are just so benign and second nature. What about cell phones or tablets within these facilities? Are there risks there?
Ryan: Yeah. There certainly can be. The cell phone itself, if you're taking one that hasn't been assessed for use in a hazardous area into a hazardous area, you're potentially taking a ignition source into that area. A lot of people are doing it. A lot of companies are wanting to do it and they don't think anything of it because we all walk around with these phones in our pockets or in our purse if that's what you carry or whatever, but they're generally seen as this benign thing that sleeps next to us at night and it is constantly on our person during the day. We don't really think anything of it, but there's plenty of situations that can cause the batteries to go into thermal runaway and other events in those devices that if they haven't been assessed and the safety hasn't been verified somehow, it poses a risk.
When I talk to companies and I talk to different people, I say, "Listen. You wouldn't take a computer monitor or any other piece of equipment into a hazardous area unless it had all the appropriate certifications to be installed in a hazardous area. Why is it okay to walk around with the phone that isn't?" And to some extent, it might be worse because how many pieces of equipment do you have in your hazardous area relative to the number of people that you have walking around your hazardous area? And the people that are walking around can walk in and out of all kinds of locations that may or may not have a hazardous environment. At least the fixed piece of equipment is where it's supposed to be, right? It's on a pole, it's on a rack, whatever, but the mobile devices are free to move and most people's phones that I've seen have cracked screens on them and that kind of stuff, and we keep using them. So it's a ignition source no different than any other ignition source and it should be treated as such.
Traci: Good points there. Not all risks are the same. There are various levels. How do you effectively address those different levels?
Ryan: I think this is where having a good risk analysis of your facility and understanding what those risks are and the likelihood of those risks. And so my mom was in the medical field and she had to do a lot to do with compliance for medical devices and she would tell her hires up, "What do you want to see on the front page? How do you want to handle this?" Right? So we recognize that we can't take the risk to zero, but understanding what those risks are, how big of an issue it is, how often it is, and we've all seen the risk matrix of it doesn't happen very often and it's not that big a deal to, it happens a lot and when it does, it's a big deal. And so we have to appropriately deal with those risks. So you have the hierarchy of controls for risks and at the top of that inverted pyramid is proper design.
So you want to make sure that things are designed properly, that you've got from the ground up, you're designing a system, a process, a facility to minimize that risk and engineer out as many of those risks as you can and then move to the next levels, the safeguards and the other aspects. And then at the bottom will be administrative controls and PPE. So those kinds of things really should be a last resort. I mean there's always going to be some elements of safety that you can only address with personal protection equipment or PPE. And so having the appropriate equipment and understanding what those risks are and making sure that the people that are working in there understand the risks so that they're not lax with the administrative controls and the PPE. We've certainly seen people that are in situations that they wouldn't have been injured if they had been wearing the proper PPE, but also making sure that you understand the actual hazards and are addressing those hazards with PPE and not doing a one size fits all approach.
I was talking with a friend of mine the other day and he was talking about how at their facility they decided... Well people were getting cut working on certain equipment because of some sharp edges and stuff that happened on some of the pieces of equipment. And so they just decided across the board that everybody would have to wear cut resistant gloves. The problem with that is there's all kinds of scenarios where you may not want to have gloves on because it can be a snag point or it can add in a pinch point that wouldn't be there. The person didn't have a pair of gloves on and he told the example of just that situation where they were working on something and the glove had filled enough of the gap that if the guy wasn't wearing a glove, he might have had a little bit of abrasion or a bruise on his finger, but because the glove was on there, it filled up some more of the gap between his finger and the equipment and it then ended up causing an injury that pinched off the end of his finger.
So it's understanding the risks and making sure that you're doing everything appropriate for each individual risk and not saying, "Oh, well we're going to do this across the board because that's safer." and that may not necessarily be safer. And just having those things, proper understanding of the equipment and where that should be used and making sure that you're using the right equipment is all a part of that, managing that risk and making sure that you're using the hierarchy of controls and addressing those risks appropriately.
Traci: Excellent point about fixing one issue, but introducing others. Many people feel that, okay, well we addressed that issue, now we're a safe workplace. And while workers can get complacent, also folks that are trying to protect everybody can get a little complacent and think that they have addressed an issue and that they will be safe. And so it is so important to think about the whole 360 view of that. And I guess it's important to have everybody involved in that. So the person who introduced the gloves, wearing the cut resistant gloves should have put that through to other folks as well, just like you were talking about with the hierarchy and making sure that everybody is apprised of the changes happening so that they can poke holes in it.
Ryan: Absolutely. Yeah. The more people that you have to think about it, you could might even be able to do a risk assessment on the ways that you think are addressing the risk, right? Okay, so if we deploy this fix, are we fixing the problem and not introducing any others? And so that requires a certain level of rigor that's not a whole lot different than the risk assessment that you're doing to begin with. So making sure that you're actually addressing the risks on each point and truly making it safer is key.
Traci: And now, there's a lot of things that have to happen here and there's a lot of work. Are there resources to help facilities better understand their risks, work through these types of things?
Ryan: Sure. So depending on the risks that they're trying to address, there's lots of resources that might be available. And in some cases, I might think it ends up being a little bit like a menu at a diner. There's so many choices, it almost becomes something that causes analysis paralysis. We're not quite sure what to do because there's so many choices. For many of us, myself included, the first place to start is the internet, which can be a good choice and a bad choice at the same time. When I'm looking for information on a topic or advice on a particular risk or something that I'm trying to evaluate, some things that I look for is the source. So I look for companies that have worked in the space and that can demonstrate a level of knowledge and expertise.
So if I'm reading an article or a white paper or something like that from somebody I don't recognize or I'm not really sure, I'll dig into them a little bit more, it doesn't necessarily mean that the information that they're giving is bad. It just may mean that you have to do a little bit more homework on proving out that source as somebody that's a reliable source. But if it's a company that offers products in that space, how long have they been doing it? What products and services do they offer? Is it specifically from an individual? There's lots of people on LinkedIn and other media sites and social media sites that talk about different things. And so looking at that specific individual and how long have they worked in a particular base like hazardous areas, how involved is the company in aspects of influence in the particular space, in this case, hazardous areas. Do they support and contribute efforts around standardization? What other aspects do they look at? Is the company known in that space as an expert or a very reputable company?
You could look for testimonials. And again, those are sometimes good, sometimes bad, but it's just another point, right? There's no one piece that says, Okay, that's it. If you find that, then for sure it's this compilation of things. And sometimes I'll ask the question, are you more concerned with trying to sell me something? Or is it information that you're just trying to provide to make sure that people are deploying things appropriately, whether you buy from me or not. So not that companies are necessarily looking to be charitable organizations, but if the companies are only telling you certain things to make it seem like, "Hey, we have the right answer and nobody else does." We all know that that's not true either. So those things are things that I try to look for and would certainly encourage other people to look for. And there's lots of resources out there training wise, white paper wise, compendiums and different articles and things to really get a good handle on hazardous areas and certainly other risks as well within a facility.
Traci: I think you bring up an important point. People that provide solutions, they're in this business and they see so many different incidents and so many different ways that people don't think about. So they have a broader knowledge and they can bring that to the table and partner with you. But it is the distinction. You have to make sure that you're not just being sold to. You want to make sure that that company is out there to make sure... Because they have a reputation too. So the knowledge, you need to tap that knowledge. Where you can find that knowledge, you need to tap that knowledge. And I think that's important. I'm glad you pointed that out. Now, here's a question on training. Training is imperative, but there are benefits to in-house versus outsourcing the training. Should you bring somebody in for training or should you just rely on what you have in house? That was a long way to get to a question, wasn't it?
Ryan: Sure. So yeah, the issue of training certainly is part of this. And we can wrap that back to the issue of safety and making sure that people are aware of what they need to be aware of. And so again, I don't know that there's one size fits all. Sometimes, the in-house training is going to be exactly what you want and other times bringing in an outside expert should be exactly what you want. And so from my perspective, in-house training topics would be those that are well understood. It might be specific to your facility. So finding somebody that has outside expertise and can provide training for you on the specifics of your process or the other requirements that you have to run your business at your facility. Nobody's going to know that better than you, or at least you should know it the best. So I would say for in-house training, those kinds of topics would be, in my mind, best handled by the company itself and those aspects that are unique to the different processes.
And I'm not saying chemical processes, I'm saying like an ISO process if you will, but that certainly also flows into the chemical processes and the facilities that you have at a chemical plant and others. So those kinds of things that would be unique. Outside training could be good when you're trying to gain knowledge that might be needed within the company or if the topic is like a, I'll say air quote, standard type of safety thing. So there's all kinds of safety videos and stuff on ladder safety and just general tool safety and those kinds of things. So I wouldn't necessarily spend my time putting that kind of stuff together internally. I would go to those outside things. Lots of companies look for project management expertise or Six Sigma expertise and training for some number of their employees. And there's lots of companies that offer those training.
So again, I would bring in outside training and expertise for those kinds of things as well. Another thing that you might want to look for is specific hazardous area training. So a chemical plant may have knowledge within their ranks on certain aspects having to do with hazardous areas, but they may not have everything that they need. They may be looking to expand their plant, they may be looking to utilize other protection concepts, they may need to understand some of the changes.
And there are certainly experts out there that know this stuff, that live this stuff on a daily basis, maybe more so than all of the number of people that you have in your facility that would need to know that. And so you could bring in those outside resources and for anywhere from an hour to a couple of days, depending on exactly what it is that you need. Get that training for your company from people that I'll say live and breathe it. So I think it just depends on what kind of information it is that you need, who would best have that information already put together and could basically give you the most bang for your buck, if that makes sense.