Biomass Boilers Carbon Monoxide Safety Warning

Biomass boilers are increasingly popular, thanks to the Renewable Heat Initiative and the Renewables Obligation. A growing number of companies are taking part in reducing their reliance on non-renewable energy sources, and are using renewable alternatives such as wood pellets, which are classed as a bio-fuel.

However, firms are over-looking the safety implications of running biomass boilers. Since 2002, there have been at least nine fatalities in Europe caused by carbon monoxide poisoning following entry into wood pellet storage areas. Thus far, there have been no fatalities in the UK but it is imperative that firms who adopt or supply biofuel solutions, make health and safety a priority.

Carbon monoxide is a silent killer. It is colourless odourless, tasteless and highly toxic. If your firm installs, maintains or distributes wood pellet boilers, or if you manufacture, store or distribute wood pellets, the HSE has advised the following:

Authorised employees

Employees who are authorised to enter the pellet hopper/tank/storage area should be:

  • Fully trained and competent in confined space entry procedures

  • Have controls are in place to ensure safe entry as per the HSE’s code of practice for Working in Combined Spaces

  • Ensure adequate ventilation in the storage area and have devices in place to check the carbon monoxide and oxygen levels before entry

  • suitable risk assessments and put in pace suitable systems of work

Employees who are not authorised should be advised not to enter the wood pellet storage area and warned not to place parts of their body in the hopper.

Precautions the firm should take

  • Ensure wood pellet hoppers, tanks, storage rooms and boilers are installed and commissioned by a competent person approved by the manufacturer or supplier

  • Check the manufacturers, suppliers, distributors of the wood pellets are able to provide adequate health and safety information in their materials safety data sheet?

  • The pellet room should be ventilated all times either mechanically or by design i.e. having a draft run through the room

  • Be conscious of ongoing maintenance. The boiler and pellet feed mechanism should be cleaned and serviced by a competent person as per the manufacturer’s instructions

  • Staff should be kept up to date if any problems occur with the units, such as the system not heating correctly or flue gases entering the boiler room, as it should be turned off and assistance is to be sought from the supplier and or manufacturer

Warning Signs

Simple, yet effective, these are vital as visual deterrents to stress the risks associated with biomass boilers. Here are few examples of appropriate signage:

  • DANGER- RISK OF CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING - There is a danger to life from odourless carbon monoxide and lack of oxygen. Check atmosphere before entry with an appropriate device. No entry for unauthorised persons. Keep children away from the storeroom

  • No smoking, fires or naked flames

  • The room should be adequately ventilated before entering. Keep the door open whilst inside

  • There is a danger of injury from movable parts

  • Filling procedures should be carried out accordance to the instructions of the heating installation company and the pellet suppliers

Above all, firms and their employees must understand the very real danger involved with the use and maintenance of biomass boilers and wood pellet storage. Once confident with managing the risks, there are plenty of benefits to be had. It’s likely that renewable energies such as biofuels will be the future for many businesses and help us reduce our carbon footprint.

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