Operating Procedures i n a r for Ammonia Refrigeration Systems

Tony Lundell, Director of Standards and Safety with the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration, hosted a webinar in January titled “Operating Procedures for Ammonia Refrigeration Systems” as part of IIAR’s program aimed at educating and advancing safety initiatives for its members.

Lundell’s webinar was part of a series for members to share their knowledge about such topics as minimizing risk, hydraulic shock prevention, pressure vessel replacement, process hazard analysis, qualifying ammonia refrigeration contractors, benefits of deep cleaning evaporator coils, and noncondensables in refrigeration systems, just to name a few recent webinars.

The January webinar featured a PowerPoint presentation discussing the required operating procedures for the safe and sustainable use of ammonia as a natural refrigerant. Among the key categories within a standard operating procedures program that Lundell addressed were how the operating procedures element relates to other process safety management elements, the purpose and general requirements for operating procedures, the steps for each operating phase, operating limits, and safety and health considerations.

A facility’s operating procedures describe the tasks to be performed, the data to be recorded, the operating conditions to be maintained, the samples to be collected, and the health and safety precautions to be taken, thus providing a benchmark for quality with operations, maintenance and standardization, while building protection and raising confidence. In his presentation, Lundell outlined the necessary requirements when developing and implementing written operating procedures.

One of the webinar’s critical points centered on the regulatory requirement that facility owners must annually certify that their operating procedures are current and accurate. “This provision can be confusing,” Lundell said. “It does not mean that you have to update each operating procedure annually. To clarify this, if there have not been any changes, then you just have to certify that the operating procedures are current and accurate. If there had been changes, the affected operating procedures need to be updated in a timely manner as part of managing the change.”

Rather than simply updating annually, Lundell pointed out that operating procedures must be reviewed periodically to reflect any changes in current operating practices in order to guard against them becoming outdated or inaccurate. A facility may choose to do the periodic reviews on a different frequency than annually. For example, he said, review 10 percent of them per month.

Lundell said that a facility’s operating procedures must address three important steps: each operating phase, operating limits and safety and health considerations.

The steps for each operating phase are initial startup, normal operations, temporary operations and emergency shutdown, including conditions under which shutdown is required and details on the operators who are responsible for the shutdown. Emergency operations, normal shutdown, and start-up following a turnaround or emergency shutdown also fall into this category. Other steps to consider are lockout/tagout, pull-out/pump down, oil draining and other safe work practices.

As an example, a normal start-up step would include checking for flow through the chiller and making certain the ammonia liquid-stop hand valves are open.

Operating limits should include the consequences of deviation and the steps required to correct or avoid the deviation. Facilities should also consider the various controls, instrumentation and safety systems.

Of course, safety and health considerations should be a main focus in a facility’s operating procedures. It should detail the properties of ammonia and the associated hazards, the precautions necessary to avoid exposure, the required personal protection equipment, and the engineering and administrative controls.

Among the critical factors to be considered are control measures, protection from physical contact and airborne exposure, the chemical inventory levels and any unique hazards. The facility’s safety systems, such as the interlocks, detection systems and suppression systems should be covered in this section, Lundell said. Among the safety and health examples Lundell cited was taking precautions such as wearing rubber gloves, splash goggles, and a face shield when performing work where there is a potential for ammonia to be released, when draining oil or when charging ammonia into the system. He also said that respiratory protective equipment should be readily available when performing the work.

Finally, operating procedures must be readily accessible to employees, and the status for procedures must be ready and up to date.

Lundell pointed out that the development of the operating procedures is the responsibility of the facility owner. “It is permitted to have a contractor develop them and even use them, but ultimately, operating procedures are the owner’s responsibility,” he said.

In the final analysis, Lundell concluded, “Current and accurate operating procedures provide for the safe operation and maintenance of ammonia refrigeration systems.”

The “Operating Procedures for Ammonia Refrigeration Systems” webinar as well as other IIAR education webinars may be accessed online through the IIAR website.