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Performing regular boiler maintenance improves workplace safety

BoilerWith the heat of summer upon us, perhaps one of the last things on your mind is the condition of your boiler. However, now is the time to consider boiler maintenance so the boiler is ready to fire up when you need it.

Boiler room basics

When’s the last time you looked inside your boiler room? Keeping tabs on your boiler starts with the boiler room itself. Our partner, Mutual Boiler Re, who conducts all the boiler inspections for our customers, states this room shouldn’t be an all-purpose storage area. A boiler room needs good air circulation for proper fuel consumption to prevent the production of carbon monoxide.

It’s also important to keep combustible materials such as dirty rags and flammable liquids out of this area, as they are potential fire hazards.

Walk around the boiler and observe operating conditions. Look for any signs of abnormal conditions such as leakage, excessive heat, poor ventilation, corrosion, loose or damaged electrical wiring, gas or oil leaks, or missing safety devices.

You should also verify that your current installation meets or exceeds combustion control guidelines consistent with the type of equipment present and in accordance with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) CSD-1 (Controls and Safety Devices for Automatically Fired Boilers) standards.

Implement a documented program for inspection, testing and maintenance of combustion control equipment. Test safety controls at least annually, using qualified instrumentation technicians.

Boiler room personnel

Does your staff operate the boiler at your business? Are they properly trained for the task? According to Mutual Boiler Re, operator error is the top cause of boiler accidents that lead to property loss. Make sure all employees who operate or maintain the boiler room are trained on all equipment, controls, safety devices, and operating procedures.

Keep a logbook for the boiler room, recording the maintenance schedule, testing, safety checks, and any repairs made.

Mutual Boiler Re also offers information on an online training course for safe boiler operation.

Boiler overheating

With general maintenance now on your radar, there are also three areas of concerns to monitor—boiler overheating, boiler overpressure, and boiler water treatment. We’ll start with overheating.

An essential ingredient for boilers is, of course, water. Boiler operation needs continuous circulation and replenishment of water. Overheating can occur when the boiler continues operating when water levels get too low.

According to Mutual Boiler Re, in addition to loose tubes and deformed pipes as a result of this action, dry firing could result, leading to tube collapse, ruptures, and even melting of the metal.

Have a monitoring system in place to track water levels, and shut down the boiler when necessary.

Boiler overpressure

We talked about boilers overheating, but another hazard is overpressure. According to FM Global, a member of the FM Global Group along with Mutual Boiler Re, overpressure occurs in boiler or pressure vessel when normal devices fail to maintain heat or pressure input below the maximum allowable levels.

To make sure this doesn’t happen, codes dictate there must be safety measures in place to prevent this pressure build-up, usually in the form of a safety relief valve. Pressure relief devices are always directly attached to boilers, and they may be either directly attached to the pressure vessels or attached to the inlet piping of the vessel.

Regarding overpressure protection, you can do the following at your business now:

  • Make sure all boilers and pressure vessels have some sort of overpressure protection measures in place
  • Lift test safety and relief valves to confirm freedom to operate
  • Check overpressure devices for signs of leakage
  • Visually inspect safety and relief valves for sealing wire (assuring valve setting hasn’t been altered)

FM Global offers more information on boiler and pressure vessel overpressure.

Boiler feedwater treatment

It’s not as simple as adding water to your boiler and walking away. Treating that water, known as feedwater, helps maintain steam purity and long-term integrity of your pressure parts. Without feedwater treatment, minerals and other compounds remain in the water, leading to corrosion, pitting, and buildup in boiler components.

Boiler water should be treated to avoid these issues and more. Suspended solids are removed with filters and dissolved gas is removed by deaeration. Some sort of feedwater treatment should be in place and regularly monitored. In some cases, a simple water softener does the trick.

Regarding boiler feedwater treatment, according to FM Global, you should:

  • Test your boiler water on a regular basis
  • Follow your water treatment company’s recommendation for types and quantities of chemicals to add to your boiler water
  • Document chemical use
  • Inspect water treatment piping and vales
  • Ensure instrumentation and automatic controls are working properly

You can learn more about boiler feedwater treatment here.

There is a lot to know about boilers and boiler maintenance. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact your Hortica agent. FM Global also has a thorough Pocket Guide to Boiler Care and Operation that covers things to do during startup, shutdown, device testing, and many other facets of boiler operation.