process piping safety considerations

5 Key Considerations for Process Piping Safety

Jeffrey Dennis, STS, CSP. EHS Director

Outfitting a new, or expanding an existing, semiconductor fab with process piping for ultrapure water, gases or chemical delivery is a tricky business, even for the most experienced welders and pipe fitters. Semiconductor manufacturing construction environments are full of potential hazards, such as exposure to highly volatile chemicals, and dangerous tools that require proper handling to use safely. At Total Facility Solutions (TFS), we are proud of our reputation for being leaders in process piping safety. While we have a long track record of ensuring our employees’ safety, in 2018 we launched our “Everyone Goes Home Safe” initiative. The program is designed to encourage our entire organization, from our executive leadership to our craft employees, to collaborate in creating an injury-free workplace. Here are five key considerations related to process piping safety that we recommend (and follow ourselves) to ensure a safe worksite and build-out experience.

Establish a culture of behavioral-based safety

In the process piping world, behavioral-based safety can be the difference between keeping all your fingers and only being able to count to four on one hand. For example, cleaning or inspecting a facing tool while it’s still plugged in (or worse, turned on), or aligning pipes in an orbital welder by hand, may seem to be the path to quick results, but the only shortcut we’ve noticed is one to the Emergency Room. We motivate our employees to make the right behavioral choices-such as de-energizing tools before cleaning and inspecting, and using tools designed for pipe alignment rather than your finger-through proper training, protocols, and our Safety Star recognition program for employees, leadership, and peers who perform above-minimum environmental health and safety (EHS) standards.

Set clear expectations for your organization

At TFS, we have a set of safety roles and responsibilities for each level of the organization to guide our staff toward maintaining an injury-free workplace. For example, upper-level management conducts project site walks to engage with field teams in safety discussions; attends monthly safety leadership team meetings, and mass safety meetings; as well as participates in weekly “Toolbox Talks” with employees to make sure safety protocols are being followed. All employees attend site-specific safety orientations and complete task-specific training prior to performing any tasks related to the project. Our clients receive a signed statement that demonstrates our philosophy for and commitment to safety performance. This statement defines and sets expectations throughout our company and our clients’ project sites.

Create and follow pre-task plan protocols

Hazard identification is key in the reduction of injuries. On the job site, the project foreman and craft employees complete high-hazard walks and/or safe behavior observations to identify potential dangers. Together, they sign a pre-task plan (PTP) for each assigned scope of work prior to beginning work. When conditions change, -for example, if new work is in close proximity to hazards, or there is a change in crew members or scope-the change is evaluated, and the PTP is adjusted and re-signed. Working conditions in an operating fab are dangerous, and training is required by all of our field employees on navigating safety procedures when tools are required to be locked out, or line breaks occur on systems that deliver hazardous gases and chemicals. Training on procedures such as Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) and Line Break are critical to preventing serious injury in operating fabs.

Work with tool manufacturers to identify and address potential hazards

Unless precautions are taken, welders can be at risk for being blinded by the welding arc, or exposure to high concentrations of fumes, such as hexavalent chromium released during welding. Our teams conduct periodic testing to evaluate exposure and employee local-exhaust fume extraction to control fume levels, as well as to train welders to avoid placing their faces in the fumes. When we recognized our facing tools could be safer, our field teams formed a Facing Tools Taskforce and worked in collaboration with major tool makers to make some purchasing and design suggestions, such as finger guards, face shields and safety switches to de-energize them.

Perform the critical work in a controlled environment

Existing fab expansion projects often call for the de-installation of semiconductor process tools, which require repair, and oftentimes replacement, of high-hazard chemical lines. To reduce the risk of potential on-site hazards, TFS cuts pipe, and welds and assembles systems in its fabrication shops. It is much safer to do this type of work in a controlled environment rather than in an active fab, around other tradespeople, where injuries are more likely to happen.

TFS’ commitment to safety and experience with all aspects of facility construction services are why leading-edge semiconductor manufacturers come to us with their process piping projects. To learn more about our ongoing safety initiatives, contact your TFS representative.