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WaterOperator.org Blog

Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.

Methane Safety at Wastewater Plants

Methane Safety at Wastewater Plants
Last week, a large explosion at a water reclamation facility in Calumet, IL served as a somber reminder of the importance of following safe practices when dealing with methane gas or any flammable material at treatment plants. While no one was killed, there were injuries and some of these were severe.

With this in mind, there is no better time than now to review safety procedures and training practices for working around potentially explosive materials like methane. 

An important first safety step, according to this Spring 2018 article in Missouri WEA's Current Magazine, is to check your facility for gas leaks and accumulations. When doing this, it is better to use a combustible gas meter than to rely on your sense of smell, because an individual's nose can become desensitized to the tell-tale rotten-egg smell over time. In addition, it is essential that workers know how to use monitors properly, and test them regularly.

Other recommendations include the installation of an automatic fan/ventilation system and a permanent gas detection system. 

Finally, as this safety presentation from Suez points out, never perform hot work unless explosion risks have been identified and eliminated. If you need a visual reminder about why this is so important, this video from the US Chemical Society & Hazard Investigation Board (USCSB) lays out the events leading up to a fatal Florida wastewater plant explosion in 2006. 

Gas and chemical hazards are an invisible but unavoidable fact in the operations of a wastewater treatment plant. Get a step ahead of the game by reviewing these tips and following the correct protocol - it's the best way to ensure that you return home safely each workday.

Featured Video: Lockout/Tagout

Why do things never seem to break when the weather's nice out? Somehow, whether it's the roof over your house, the battery in your car, or the machinery at your utility, things always seem to have a way of breaking down right when it's pouring rain, or there's a raging blizzard, or the temperature's over 100. Probably it's just that those are the breakdowns we find more memorable, while the quick fixes on sunny spring mornings fade into the background. Whatever the reason, the important thing to remember is to be safe, no matter what life is throwing at you while you're out getting your hands dirty. One important maintenance safety practice is known as lockout/tagout, or what OSHA now calls the Control of Hazardous Energy. This practice helps ensure that moving parts don't move when you're working on them (unless you want them to), and that no electricity is flowing through equipment that can shock you while you're repairing it. This week's video introduces the concept a little further, and explains how vital it is to worker safety. You can view it on YouTube here.

For more on lockout/tagout, see the OSHA page on hazardous energy. For more on lockout/tagout at water utilities, search our document database using the category "Safety" and the word "lockout" (without the quote marks) typed in the keyword search box.