We are now into the start of the second decade of the 21st century. We need to see that we will successfully make it through into the next year without accident, mishap or burning.

The heat-treatment shop is the facility in a steel-processing or a manufacturing facility that relies on its own heat-treatment plant to service its components (captive heat-treatment shop).

There are many laws both domestically and internationally that are applicable in a heat-treatment shop. Operators cannot know all of the applicable laws, but that does not excuse us from not obeying the laws that are in place. None of us can be excused from the practice of safety in the heat-treat shop.

Safety is what we MUST practice, not only on a day-to-day basis but minute by minute. Heat can and does burn. (Think of barbecuing a steak!) Safety must be a conscious and practiced effort all day and every day.

Heat can cause fire, fire can burn down buildings, fire can kill and fire can cost us money. Heat is the major tool of the trade of a heat treater, and heat can burn all sorts of things.

Enclosed rooms and the inside of continuous, batch or vacuum furnaces are enclosed spaces that can both suffocate and kill. Do not, repeat do not, go into the interior of a furnace until you have gone through the following:
  • Confined-space entry procedures
  • Lockout and tag-out of all electrical equipment on the furnace
  • Be sure you have a “buddy” to recover you if there is a problem when you are in the furnace process chamber.
  • Do not go into the furnace without a safety harness attached to both you and your outside partner.
  • Be sure that the furnace process chamber has a continuous supply of fresh moving air (air blower, air line, etc.).
  • Be sure that both regular and frequent checks are made on firefighting equipment, hoses, extinguishers, etc.
  • Conduct quarterly fire-fighting exercises with key personnel.
  • Conduct evacuation procedures and assure that all key personnel understand the movements of the people that they are responsible for and to count accurately each individual in that team.
  • Make sure that each and every person employed in both the heat-treatment shop as well as the office understands the nature of a fire and how to deal with it without panic.
  • Be sure that all of the appropriate safety clothing is issued, functional and, most importantly, worn!
  • This applies to the heat-treatment shop and also to the metallurgical laboratory where fume hoods are used for the extraction of toxic and hazardous fumes from the mixing of acid etchants.
  • Clean up spills, (oil, water, grease, etc.) as they happen. Do not wait until someone slips or falls.
  • Make sure that all of the appropriate exits are clear of equipment blockages and that the exit door actually works.
  • Make sure that the appropriate danger and warning signs are in place and visible to everyone.
  • Make sure that each shop individual is wearing his/her safety glasses.
  • If you are conducting the nitriding process using anhydrous ammonia, know how to neutralize an ammonia leak. Remember that ammonia will also burn very vigorously.
  • If you are using any salt-bath equipment (nitrate salts to high-speed salts), appropriate safety clothing is important. Remember that if the molten salt (nitrate or other type) hits your bare skin, it will keep on burning the skin until it goes cold.
  • Oil-quench tanks will usually catch fire if they are overloaded with work or if they are contaminated with water. Be sure that you have your firefighting drill perfected to deal with an oil-quench fire. The main thing is DO NOT PANIC! You know where the fire is, and you need to starve the fire of oxygen to extinguish it.
  • Good housekeeping should be mandatory. There is no reason for a heat-treat shop to look like a dungeon from hell with fire-breathing dragons (furnaces).
Although we do tend to see safety as a management problem, safety should not rest entirely with management. An individual should be responsible for their own equipment and work area. We are all responsible for safety, not only of ourselves but of others.

More on this next time.