Collective effort needed to keep biomass safe

(L-R) Patrick Walters, Chief Operating Officer, Simon Watson, Senior Manager Biomass Operations

Biomass is arguably one of the riskiest cargoes handled at the Port of Liverpool, mainly because it is highly flammable and generates potentially fatal levels of carbon monoxide gas if not stored and managed properly. That’s according to Simon Watson who, as Terminal Manager, has been involved from the very outset of the project, influencing the assorted health and safety procedures that keep the terminal operating each day.

The terminal processes around 2 million tonnes of wood pellets each year that arrive in Liverpool aboard ships from North America. Once processed, the biomass is transported by rail to Drax Power Station in Yorkshire.

As Simon explains, the process of keeping the supply chain moving safely requires the collective buy in of everyone working at the terminal, given the very unique risks that occur: “With all of our biomass arriving in Liverpool aboard ships sailing from North America, we are often confronted with levels of carbon monoxide that are potentially very dangerous. That’s down to the fact that biomass naturally heats itself up due to microbial and chemical reactions, and if not managed properly could cause a fire. In response to this unique set of risks, we have developed a series of procedures which we follow rigorously.”

There are various safeguards required to ensure the safe handling of biomass, including:

  • Keeping the terminal clean to control the presence of the highly-combustable dust
  • Constantly monitoring the temperature and gas levels across the terminal
  • Having the option to shut-down the site immediately in case of problems
  • Having built-in fire-fighting equipment throughout the site for rapid response
  • Providing respiratory masks and personal gas meters, as well as standard PPE

One strength of the biomass terminal is that there are two elected health and safety representatives from the core workforce who have written the Terminal’s standard operating procedures and risk assessment. This ensures that there is complete involvement of the whole team in the safety of their terminal.

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