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The inherent danger of combustion in thermal power plants

June 5, 2023 1:52 pm

The inherent danger of combustion in thermal power plants
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It is critical to evaluate the potential risks involved and the necessary measures for this complex conversion process. This talk focuses on three major aspects highlighting the need for security measures and ways to limit potential dangers.

Thermal power plants are critical for energy generation, but they have inherent dangers that must be managed. This introduction investigates the hazards involved with power plants, the expense of ensuring safety, and the shared duty of all stakeholders. It emphasises the need for enhanced safety culture. It investigates the roles of design and engineering, the execution team, operating engineers, shift charge engineers, and maintenance engineers in maintaining a safe working environment. The emphasis is on reforming safety culture, reducing crises, and empowering personnel to achieve a safer and more efficient power plant operation.

Subrata Das, Power Plant Consultant at SSSD India, an experienced professional in the field of safety and construction, is addressing the topic of safety with a particular focus on identifying causes and finding remedies. During a discussion with him, he highlighted three key points that shed light on the importance of safety measures and explored ways to mitigate potential risks.

Understanding risks and precautions in thermal power plants
The first point is the inherent danger of fire, feared by every living creature except humans, who have learned to control and use it. Thermal power plants harness this heat energy to generate electricity on a large scale. Considering the risks and precautions required for this complex conversion process is essential.

Secondly, nothing comes without a cost, including power generation and safety. Once a thermal power plant is fuelled, specified and targeted costs are associated with power generation. What is the cost of ensuring safety, and who bears this cost? We will discuss ways to improve safety by examining examples from developed countries.

Thirdly, a thermal power plant’s safety target is to prevent accidents. The question arises: is this achievable? The answer is that we can only strive to achieve it; there are no guarantees. Achieving safety is not solely the responsibility of operation and maintenance engineers but also of the plant’s design engineering partners and execution agencies.

Design and engineering: enhancing safety through proper planning and implementation
Let’s define and assess the responsibility of the initial performer, which is the design and engineering of the power plant. During the project’s cost and technical optimisation stages, designers often overlook safety. Safety requirements are frequently overridden, such as in the design of road crossings within the plant or access to equipment for operation and maintenance. Adequate sizing of platforms, galleries, and staircases and proper lighting can significantly enhance safety.

Incorporating interconnection walkways, elevators for tall buildings, and advanced technologies like CCTV cameras can further enhance safety and ease of operation and maintenance. Plant automation is essential to ensure safety, as higher levels of automation reduce the chances of accidents. Fire protection systems are mandated, and the strategic distribution of firewater lines and access points during the engineering phase is crucial. Unfortunately, investors often prioritise initial cost savings by relying more on manual operation and inexpensive labour, compromising safety.

Ensuring safe execution and efficient operations: the role of the execution team and operating engineers
The responsibility of the second performer, the executor, threatens safety when attempting to reduce costs and expedite execution. Execution should follow a pre-set and practice schedule that allows for improvements and customisation. By doing so, safety can be naturally achieved and assured. Safety briefings conducted by plant safety officials for workers should use clear language specific to the plant and local area rather than general guidelines. It is essential to highlight the precautions relevant to the specific plant. Workers should be equipped and trained to think critically and react effectively in unforeseen circumstances. Safety entails more than just wearing a helmet; it encompasses various aspects within the plant, much like wearing a shirt.

The execution team must adhere to a well-planned and engineered schedule for daily erection activities. This entails ensuring that workforce, materials, and machinery are readily available on-site each day, with no unscheduled or additional tasks taken up. The team leaders need to communicate clearly and assertively. One designated leader should oversee the entire executive team and ensure the completion of work efficiently.

Mitigating crisis and empowering workers at power plants: transforming safety culture
The primary objective is to mitigate Power Plant crises and minimise the impact of generation loss by establishing automatic safety measures. The role of the safety officer needs to transcend from being an unproductive call centre to becoming an integral part of productivity. Even preventing a single accident can yield significant benefits for the entire plant. Unfortunately, human workers are often considered cheaper than the selling price of electricity, leading to situations where they are compelled to work in risky environments to avoid shutdowns. It is crucial to reevaluate this culture, especially as countries advance and plants undergo modernisation. We need to find answers on how to improve the working environment in power plants.

Over the past few decades, we have observed two types of accidents in power plants. The first type involves the plant’s employees, who sometimes knowingly take risks to meet targets. The second type involves individuals working temporarily who unintentionally contribute to accidents. The pressure to achieve targets is often the reason behind the first category, while the lack of proper awareness plays a role in the second category. Fixed and achievable targets should be set during the planning stage to address the first category. For the second category, educating and providing clear instructions to individuals working in the power plant temporarily is essential.

To ensure comprehensive safety, it is crucial to go beyond mere posters and briefings and meticulously determine and design safety measures. Like any other aspect, safety entails a cost, and minimising investment increases the risk. Engineers are responsible for integrating safety measures from the initial engineering stage and ensuring their implementation. Planned operations and condition-based, predictive, and preventive maintenance are essential for achieving success in both productivity and safety.

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