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‘Without doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the largest and most widespread turnaround ever seen’

Paul Brooke Head of Property & Casualty Risk Engineering Services – EMEA, Chubb

As lockdown restrictions are enforced once more across large parts of Europe, many businesses continue to look ahead at how best to resume operations once permitted.

We know after the first lockdowns earlier this year, that the process of restarting in an office environment is to a large extent relatively straightforward as it is primarily based around people and logistics. This typically involves effective social distancing measures, establishing disinfection stations and cleaning protocols, adhering to any specific local restrictions and other important health and safety considerations, including suitable PPE and appropriate visitor protocols.

Manufacturing companies or other types of industry where plant and machinery are used face a different set of challenges. In addition to reconfiguring the working environment to keep employees safe, they should also consider how to resume operations without adversely affecting equipment.

An event where processing or production units are removed from service temporarily is known as “turnaround”. Without doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the largest and most widespread turnaround ever seen. However, in the rush to restart following a production turnaround, businesses should proceed with caution as poor planning can be damaging, costly and even lead to a further prolonged shutdown.

So how do you ensure a safe and efficient restart?

Planning, communication and coordination are key, you cannot simply go in, switch everything back on and expect operations to resume straight away.

A pre-start up safety review plan at the facility is essential, examining each specific area and department. As part of this, it is important to define the scope of what is required and this must involve all levels of the organisation, especially environmental and health and safety teams.

Getting turnaround and restart right comes down to preparation. Safety is the primary consideration here but also look at logistics for storage, protection, equipment, services and utilities. Work plans should detail job scope, manpower, contractors and labour hours.

Often, there are additional employees and contractors used to assist who might be new to the plant and safety procedures. Existing employees might be asked to perform new tasks in isolated, confined or hazardous areas of the facility, also elevating risk.

Only when all preparation is complete can you consider executing the plan. Check and test at all times - inspect the main assets while equipment is down. Recommissioning testing must validate safety and readiness to return equipment to planned operation. Again, think about the possibility of the unknown, such as scope changes.

Once testing and final inspections are completed and equipment is operational, ramp up can begin, where usage is increased to “normal” levels.

With so many things to work through, Chubb Risk Engineers have produced Turnaround Guidance and a Checklist for businesses to consider. This includes but is not limited to the following:

  • Conduct, complete and apply written safety reviews prior to turnarounds.
  • Conduct a management of change analysis for equipment, processes and procedures that are not replacements in kind. Provide start up safety orientation to new workers and train them on how to avoid identified risks. Instruct them in emergency safety procedures.
  • Screen new contractors for competence, relevant skills and familiarity with the type of turnaround being conducted and specify who is responsible for supervising them.
  • Lockout and tagout equipment to help prevent machines from unexpectedly restarting or energising.
  • Review any additions or modifications to equipment that may require arc flash analysis.
  • Review and protect locations that present or may present ignitable atmospheres.
  • Verify auxiliary plant equipment such as sump pumps, emergency batteries, UPS systems and water treatment systems are all fully operational.
  • Ensure all boilers and pressure vessels are inspected and maintained to jurisdictional standards prior to start up.
  • Heavy machinery brought in to move equipment may increase the risks onsite. Ensure equipment moves are only conducted by suitably trained and, where applicable, certified operators. Sufficient guide staff and spotters should be available.
  • Protect wet locations. Keep moisture out of enclosures to prevent electrical shock hazards and damage to equipment.
  • Pay special attention to air and gas cylinders. Close their main valves when not in use, remove regulators and install safety caps.
  • Conduct a full inspection of major machinery prior to start up.
  • Ensure fire protection systems are operational and inspected, tested and maintained per applicable regulation.
  • Review process hazards analyses where required and make sure they are current to reflect any process modifications, new equipment, installations or potential hazards.
  • Review ventilation requirements for new equipment that may generate hazardous vapours/gases/fumes.
  • Make sure machinery is properly earthed/grounded. Use power source and line quality monitoring devices to alert operators to problems.

Paul Brooke is Head of Property & Casualty Risk Engineering Services – EMEA, Chubb

For more information on Turnaround and coming out of shutdown click here