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Safety barriers within nuclear power stations

28 May 2014

EDF Energy is dedicated to continually improving its practices and its safety systems are constantly under review.  It was this continual improvement process which led the team at EDF Energy to approach safety barrier specialist, Tensator, to design a safety solution at its Hinkley Point B plant near Bridgewater in Somerset. 

Six years ago, the British government announced it was giving the go-ahead for a new generation of nuclear power plants to be built in order to help meet the UK’s future energy needs. This may have raised concerns amongst some about safety issues but, in fact, the nuclear industry is probably subject to more stringent legislation than any other industry.

Health and safety is of paramount importance; risk assessments have to be comprehensive and failsafe systems put in place to prevent accidents. Indeed, the UK nuclear industry has always had an excellent safety record.

EDF Energy owns and operates eight nuclear power stations throughout the UK, with a combined capacity of almost 9,000 megawatts.

By their very nature, nuclear power plants are home to large amounts of radioactive materials, yet there are actually many more common potential hazards confronting workers on-site.  These can include falling, working in confined spaces, heat stress, electrical shock and risk from toxic chemicals.

As part of EDF Energy’s ‘Zero Harm Policy’ great importance is placed on safety, with robust systems in place to protect over 15,000 members of staff, as well as contractors and members of the public.

Hinkley Point B plant near Bridgewater in Somerset has a net electrical output of 945 MW and is capable of supplying over 1.5 million homes. 

The team wanted a more clearly defined process within the plant to highlight the different risk areas to contractors.  They also felt it was necessary to identify more clearly the varying levels of radiation and to give clear information about access and the authorisation required to enter certain areas.

Working closely with EDF Energy, Tensator developed a simple colour-coded system using a range of products chosen to best suit the layout of the power station.

The core element of the solution involved Tensator’s Heavy Duty Posts.  These are used to cordon off restricted areas in the plant where only certain contractors are permitted to work. Red, yellow and white tubing is used to create a simple, colour-based code to highlight information regarding radiation and access requirements for each area about to be entered. This message is reinforced by the webbing used to join the posts which carries clear messages such as ‘Protected area, contact XXX’.

The Heavy Duty Posts are complemented by a number of Wall Mounted Barriers, used to create non-access areas without taking up floor space. Again, these are colour-coded and carry messaging on the webbing. Where possible, units with magnetic mounting are used, meaning that, just like the Heavy Duty Posts, the Wall Mounted Barriers offer a flexible solution that can be moved around as and when required.

The whole project took one month to complete and, whilst the installation may have been simple, it had a big impact which soon came to the attention of EDF Energy’s management team.

Contractors can now instantly identify areas of restricted access and this has resulted in more clearly defined working processes.

Originally, each site had its own methods of creating restricted access areas, which could prove confusing for contractors who worked at multiple locations, so safety managers at EDF Energy saw the potential to take the system company-wide.

A complete rollout of Tensator’s colour-based solution was ordered soon after the Hinkley project completion and systems were installed in all eight of EDF Energy’s nuclear power plants, from Torness in East Lothian, to Dungeness B in Kent.

In total, Tensator provided 2,468 Heavy Duty Posts, 1,884 Wall Mounted Barriers and 821 Sign Holders across EDF Energy’s entire nuclear fleet.  With around 200 contractors on each site, this meant that everyone was able to carry out their work more efficiently and in the safest way possible.

Chris Wilson, Tensator’s health and safety sector business development manager, said: “Sometimes there is no need to over-complicate things and the most straightforward solution is the best.

“This is the approach that was taken with EDF Energy and resulted in a solution that everyone working for the company, as well as hundreds of contractors across the UK, will benefit from when it comes to their personal safety.”

Peter Higginson, technical and safety support manager at Hinkley Point B, said: "Safety is the first priority at any of our sites and we are continuously looking to enhance our existing robust systems and procedures. Introducing this clear, simple system of marking particular areas of the site has been very effective in letting employees and contractors see and understand the restrictions at a glance, contributing to a safe working environment for all."

Safety barriers – potential uses

Figures released by the Health and Safety Executive reveal that across the whole of UK industry 148 workers were killed whilst at work during 2012/13.  78,000 other injuries were also reported.  Most of these accidents can easily be avoided by undertaking a few simple safety measures such as:

1. Avoid Slips and Trips – Closing off temporary hazards, such as spillages and areas being cleaned or maintained with highly visible signage and barriers to avoid unexpected danger for employees and visitors.

2. Spot Potential Hazards – Conduct periodic site surveys with a specialist to assess potential health and safety hazards in your working environment, allowing you to be proactive when it comes to avoiding costly accidents. 

3. Create Clear People Traffic Routes – This cannot only help your organisation avoid accidents by preventing employees or members of the public unknowingly straying from safe areas, it can also help to eliminate confusion and frustration as a result of people being unaware of safe pedestrian routes throughout your site.

4. Close ‘Out of Access’ Areas – If you have areas that are closed for general access, for example where forklifts are in use or a lift is out of service, make sure that you are able to quickly and easily close off these areas, whilst at the same time warning about the potential hazard.

5. Reinforce Safety Messages – Place safety messages prominently around the workplace to highlight safety awareness areas and potential hazards.


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