Running a boiler correctly doesn’t just mean keeping it efficient. It also means keeping it safe for the operators, and everyone else in the facility. If a boiler is operated properly, it will do its job efficiently and safely. If it isn’t, it can waste fuel or, even worse, end up causing damage or injury.
THE NUMBER ONE RULE OF SAFETY
According to the experts at WARE, the number-one rule for keeping yourself and those around you safe is “know where the exit is.” There it is. Now you know. Let’s move on.
The heat that makes the steam has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is the boiler’s fire side. Correct combustion is the first thing new boiler technicians learn about because it’s the key to the whole steam process. It also serves as a great indicator of the safety of a boiler. If the boiler is getting the right amount of heat, and that heat is properly controlled, somebody’s paying attention and doing their job and the equipment is running within spec.
You don’t have to go and read the gauges to figure out if the combustion’s wrong, either. You can listen to your boiler because rumbling is a sign of an unstable flame. You can also just feel the air. If the boiler room is uncomfortably hot, there’s too much heat being generated, which could be stressing the entire boiler system. Excess heat causes metal fatigue, as well as accelerates the chemical processes inside the boiler that lead to corrosion. Those are just safety issues waiting to happen because they can cause cracks that leak dangerous hot water or steam.
THE AIR OUT THERE
The number one safety mistake made in the boiler room, as it turns out, has to do with combustion. Specifically, it involves having too little air coming into the combustion chamber. Fuel can’t burn without oxygen, so a boiler’s burners need a steady supply of oxygen-rich air to do their job. Without enough incoming air, the combustion will become fuel rich and leave soot on the surfaces of the boiler causing a big drop in efficiency.
That incoming air is also what starts the draft of the boiler, which is the stream of air and gasses that starts at the dampers and travels through the combustion chamber and out the stack. That draft serves not only to keep the boiler supplied with oxygen but also to keep exhaust gasses heading in the right direction. To make sure the draft is doing what it should, air pressure sensors monitor the draft at various points along its route to confirm it’s moving in the right direction. But you don’t need sensors to know that the draft is too small. If it’s difficult to open the door to the boiler room because of the negative draft, your boiler isn’t getting enough air.
NEED SOME WATER?
The water inside your boiler is another key factor to consider when it comes to safety. Correct water levels are crucial to safe, efficient operation. Too much water will flood your boiler. Too little water will cause stress on the boiler’s walls. Improperly softened and treated water will lead to corrosion. To keep everyone safe, make sure you check your boiler’s sight glass regularly and monitor the condition of your water as closely as you watch the quantity.
LOOK AROUND YOU
Another way to know you’re in a safely run boiler room is by simply using your eyes. Boiler problems aren’t always invisible. Leaks are often easy to spot, and they’re a good indication that something is amiss. Leaks don’t go away, they usually just get bigger.
Another way to judge the safety of a boiler room has to do with how clean it is. A neat, clean, organized boiler room is an indicator that someone is on the ball and paying attention. A cluttered and dirty boiler room suggests the boiler is more of an afterthought, which means other safety matters like inspections and maintenance aren’t a top priority, either.
There’s more to it, though. Remember the first rule of safety way up there at the beginning? About knowing where the exits are? An exit is no good if you have to climb over or around stuff to get to it, or if you step in a mop bucket and break your ankle while trying to get out. A neat, orderly boiler room has a safe path out if something goes wrong. And getting away from danger is what safety is all about.
FOLLOW THE RULES
Another important thing to remember in terms of boiler safety is proper process control. Every boiler has its own specific startup and shutdown procedure, and its own specific set of specifications for operation. Follow these procedures to the letter, and you’ll go a long way toward eliminating potential safety hazards while keeping your boiler running efficiently.
If you need help keeping your boiler room safe, or if you’d like an inspection from the pros, WARE is here to help with a staff of highly trained techs who take pride in their work. Of course, if you’d like to learn more about how a boiler operates, to make sure you’re doing everything safely and correctly, we invite you to take a course or two from WARE’s Boiler University. Whatever you need, just let us know. We’re here to help.