Many hazards in the steel industry seem obvious, however following a recent audit, the World Steel Association is holding its second “Steel Safety Day” on 28th April to highlight the invisible hazards that present very real risks in today’s steel processing industry. Among the five key areas under the spotlight is “gas and asphyxiation”. We think World Steel Day is a terrific initiative and want to do our bit to spread the word.
There are many hazardous gases employed in making and forming steel. Carbon dioxide, ammonia, sulphur compounds and benzene are all toxic gases generated during processing. Others gas hazards are introduced during processing, such as pure oxygen (used in Basic Oxygen Steel process) and nitrogen or argon (used during secondary processing). Due to the large amount of water and energy needed during processing, water treatment and power generation facilities are frequently part of steel facilities, posing gas hazards of their own for personnel.
Increasing awareness of these gas hazards is certainly a first step to reducing the risk to personnel. Robust and reliable gas detection solutions are also known to contribute to risk reduction programmes. However, the challenging environment within the steel industry demands that expert knowledge is employed when defining these solutions.
The complex mix of gases that can be encountered working on site poses a particular challenge. For example, hydrogen cross-reacts with the electrochemical carbon monoxide sensors, so hydrogen filtered CO sensors should be standard at steel facilities. Another issue is caused by the grainy ferrous dust generated throughout the process. This requires removable filters be used, which can be replaced or cleaned on a regular basis, to ensure gas can travel to the sensor, so it can be monitored.
Other risks include the many crawl spaces, service hatches and inspection points which present serious confined space hazards, particularly in a working environment associated with the mix of gases already discussed. A personal gas monitor should be worn when entering such places as oxygen not only poses a danger if it is deficient. When oxygen is enriched things ignite more easily, and they can burn hotter and more fiercely. Extinguishing a flame can become almost impossible.
By highlighting the less obvious hazards of steel manufacturing, including the dangers associated with gas and asphyxiation, we believe the World Steel Association has taken an important step to improving safety in this hazardous industry. Hopefully, by improving awareness of gas hazards and the preventative measures which can be taken to make the workplace safe, we can help the steel industry reach their target of an injury-free, illness-free and healthy workplace.