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How to protect manufacturing plants for long-term shutdowns

May 6, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many companies to temporarily close industrial plants. Learn how to protect your unoccupied facility until normal business resumes.

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The COVID-19 outbreak has led to the temporary closure of business operations across the U.S., with thousands of facilities being shut down for extended lengths of time. It’s important to remember that when a commercial property is closed, whether it’s due to the current pandemic, a severe weather event or any other reason, the building and its contents require ongoing attention. The absence of normal human presence may delay the discovery of abnormal conditions such as vandalism; rodent, bird or vermin damage; electrical faults; or even the loss of building heat during cold weather and its potential impact.

Industrial plants that will be unoccupied for more than a month present a unique set of demands. A report from Zurich’s Risk Engineering team, “Long Term Lay-Up and Restart of Process and Industrial Plant,” includes a variety of measures that companies can take to help protect their investments.

This includes how to prepare a facility for shutdown, manage it during the closure, and restart operations with a minimum of trouble. Here are some tips from the report (you can download the full document below):

6 ways to prepare the plant for a shutdown

Following are suggested actions for shutdowns that last longer than a typical extended maintenance outage or may even extend through several seasons. In these situations, extensive maintenance work will not take place and a limited maintenance staff may only be present periodically. Suggested activities include:

  • Create a plan for any shutdown or restart operation.
  • Consider equipment protection to mitigate potential damage using isolation, draining, disconnection, etc.
  • Maintain records of all actions taken, all isolation points, all drain locations, any blanking plates fitted, etc.
  • Identify all isolation points, blanking points, drain valves and electrical isolation.
  • Provide or maintain measures such as security patrols, perimeter fencing, locks (doors, windows and gates), lighting (inside and outside), closed-circuit television, and intruder alarms to minimize exposures to threats such as vandalism, arson or theft.
  • Identify and maintain key equipment areas, such as boilers (with appropriate actions for a temporary shutdown of a few days, a wet lay-up of three months or a dry lay-up of over three months); pressure systems; rotating equipment; tanks and vessels; instrument and control systems; and process equipment.

Protecting the building

Take appropriate measures to protect the building. These include:

  • Provide or maintain site and building controls to avoid access by unauthorized persons.
  • Provide or maintain pest control.
  • Cover or seal unwanted building openings. Repair and secure all windows and doors to prevent weather ingress or unauthorized entry.
  • Monitor roofing and check rain water guttering and down pipes. Fix or replace damaged rainwater systems. Periodically inspect buildings to detect water ingress or leakage.
  • Maintain site and building security, including perimeter fencing, lighting and closed-circuit television, if available.
  • Maintain fire detection and protection systems in operational condition and provide all periodic tests and inspections. Fire pumps should be run weekly.
  • Periodically inspect buildings to detect water ingress or leakage.

Overseeing systems and equipment

A building’s systems and equipment will require periodic review and, possibly, maintenance. Here are some items that should be checked on a regular basis (each plant will need a customized checklist specific to the site). If in doubt regarding maintenance procedures, consult with the equipment manufacturer, process designer or other specialist service company for specific guidance.

  • Electrical power and equipment
  • Renewables
  • Fuel (e.g., gas and oil)
  • Process equipment (general, furnaces and kilns, transport and conveying systems)
  • Lifts, elevators and escalators
  • Cranes (In all cases, follow the manufacturers’ recommended parking/lay-up procedures.)
  • Warehousing and maintenance of spare parts
  • Hazardous chemicals
  • Water/sump pumps
  • Water-filled piping systems
  • Wastewater treatment plant

Resuming normal operations

When restarting idle facilities, different actions will need to be taken before, during and after start-up, often specific to the plant’s individual systems and equipment. Before resuming operations, consider these tips:

  • Allow only qualified persons to turn on utilities or restart processes. Qualified persons may include mechanical technicians, electricians, plumbers (for fuels), or process-equipment operators.
  • A process and equipment restart must be a planned operation. It must follow manufacturers’ guidelines and comply with good engineering practices. It should be undertaken by trained staff or approved contractors.
  • The lay-up checklist should be reviewed and used to ensure that all isolation and disconnection actions taken as part of the lay-up are reversed in a safe order.
  • Gas purging may be required for boilers and fuel gas lines.

For additional information and general guidance to consider when shutting down a plant, download our report, “Long Term Lay-Up and Restart of Process and Industrial Plant.