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OSHA Boiler Room Safety
A boiler room is no place for those who do not take safety seriously. It is full of high-pressure steam lines, furnaces and other related equipment. It also may include confined spaces that require agility to move around in. From Jan. 6 to Feb. 7, 2010 alone, two people died in boiler rooms. In an effort to reduce workplace injury and deaths, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which was founded in 1971, has established safety regulations for all industrial settings, including boiler rooms. If you work, or are going to work in a boiler room, familiarize yourself with these regulations.
Significance of Regulations
OSHA established boiler room safety regulations to prevent injury or death. Every incident is investigated. For example, in one weekly fatalities report, OSHA said, "Worker received severe steam burns to his lungs during the clinker material clearing process." Injuries and deaths can happen. OSHA takes its role very seriously.
Types of Regulations
OSHA does not take a "one-size-fits-all" approach. A ship's boiler room has its own regulations, while a boiler room in a electrical generation plant has regulations specific to electrical generation plants. By tailoring its regulations and bulletins, OSHA addresses hazards unique to each setting.
OSHA takes a proactive approach to safety. By issuing potential injury hazard warnings to all who enter or work in a boiler room, it hopes to prevent accidents before they occur. One such warning: "Coal dust accumulations must be recognized as a serious hazard and housekeeping must be performed with diligence to control and/or limit coal dust accumulations."
Another warning for OSHA inspectors entering an electrical boiler room: "For example, steam from a pinhole leak could lance completely through the body of a person." OSHA further states: "Experienced employees travel in these areas with a broom or a rag tied onto a stick held in front of them to detect such steam hazards."
OSHA tries to remain diligent; it issues warnings continuously as soon as a hazards become apparent. These warnings are good sources of information, because they make all who enter a boiler room aware of possible hazards.
A boiler room is an industrial setting, and OSHA has safety regulations in place for all industrial settings. General safety regulations and protocols must be followed in a boiler room as well as at other sites. Some include wearing personal protective equipment (PPEs), such as safety glasses, hearing protection and respirators. Others require the wearing of safety lanyards if any work is to be performed 6 feet or more above ground. Moreover, if temporary scaffolds have to be erected to perform work in a boiler room (such as to rebuild a boiler), these scaffolds also must meet OSHA safety mandates for scaffolds.
Boiler rooms, by nature, are hazardous environments. OSHA says even a pinhole leak in a high-pressure steam line can kill a person. Add to this the dangers of coal dust inhalation, or possible electrocution in a generating plant.
Boiler-room workers must be aware of all of OSHA's safety regulations and warnings. Further, workers in any organization fall under a "duty to warn" precept: If they see a dangerous condition at work, they have a duty to warn management and fellow employees about it.
OSHA also has strong recommendations and mandates for employers, in order to ensure a safe workplace. According to Standard Number 1915.162, an employer must undertake a series of safety steps before anybody enters or performs work in a boiler room. Some of these include making an employee aware of hazards. One such step is that "A warning sign calling attention to the fact that employees are working in the boilers shall be hung in a conspicuous location in the engine room." Furthermore, "This sign shall not be removed until it is determined that the work is completed and all employees are out of the boilers."
An employer who fails to follow any regulation is subject to severe penalties, up to and including shutdown if an imminent danger is present. Standard Number 1903.15 outlines what steps OSHA's Area Director must take to assess penalties for violations in all industrial settings, including boiler rooms.
- United States Department of Labor: Occupational Safety and Health Administration: Homepage
- United States Department of Labor: Occupational Safety and Health Administration: Weekly Fatality/Catastrophe Report
- United States Department of Labor: Occupational Safety and Health Administration: Ship's Boilers
- OSHA: Technical Information Bulletin: Potential for Natural Gas and Coal Dust Explosions
- United States Department of Labor: Occupational Safety and Health Administration: OSHA Instruction
Tony Oldhand has been technical writing since 1995. He has worked in the skilled trades and diversified into Human Services in 1998, working with the developmentally disabled. He is also heavily involved in auto restoration and in the do-it-yourself sector of craftsman trades. Oldhand has an associate degree in electronics and has studied management at the State University of New York.