Worker Safety When Decommissioning a Data Center: 5 Hazards and How to Handle Them

Whether you’re upgrading or moving locations, decommissioning data center equipment is a huge undertaking that comes with unique risks to workers. Dismantling and removing power generators, chillers, high-voltage electrical equipment, and other large items can create serious safety hazards if handled incorrectly.

 

There are five dangers that are common to every decommissioning project, and you’ll want to make sure that you’re adequately protecting employees from these hazards. Here’s an overview of the dangers and how to handle them.

1. Electrical Hazards

Energy is a powerful force that can cause not only injuries, but also death. David De Vita, Owner and President of Carolina Safety Consultants, emphasizes that electrical hazards should receive serious attention. He says, “The main risk in decommissioning data center equipment is energy sources. The company will need to make sure they’re following lockout and tagout procedures for all energy sources, including any capacitors.”

 

OSHA outlines lockout/tagout standards for safely handling electrical hazards, noting that compliance prevents an estimated 120 fatalities and 50,000 injuries each year. In addition to training workers who will be involved in the decommissioning, there are certain steps that OSHA requires:

 

  • Use lockout devices for equipment that can be locked out.

  • Tagout devices may be used in lieu of lockout devices only if the tagout program provides equivalent protection provided through a lockout program.

  • Workers should wear Insulating Protective Equipment when dealing with energy sources.

  • Arc flash boundaries should be put in place.

  • Workers should use insulated tools.

 

You can learn more about electrical safety from OSHA’s Lockout/Tagout Fact Sheet as well as their Electrical Safety in the Workplace resource.

2. Working at Heights

As workers are removing cabling or other materials, they may be working at heights. Falls are one of OSHA’s Focus Four for a reason — they’re a significant cause of injuries and fatalities in the workplace.

 

Ladder safety, guard rails and toe boards, and fall protection can prevent dangerous falls as employees are decommissioning equipment in the data center.

 

The Fall Protection section on OSHA’s website offers excellent guidance and additional resources for worker safety.

3. Manual Loading and Handling of Equipment

Data centers contain a lot of large, heavy equipment that could crush worker’s hands, arms, or other body parts, so workers will need to take safety precautions when they’re loading and handling this equipment.

 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, lifting more than 50 pounds of equipment significantly increases the risk of injury. Approximately 36% of medical issues leading to missed workdays are caused by back and shoulder injuries.

 

De Vita advises that two of the best ways to prevent injuries caused by moving heavy equipment are to have at least two employees working together and/or to use a machine to handle the lifting, such as a forklift.

 

OSHA offers a Materials Handling resource with specific safety procedures that should be followed.

4. Sharp Objects

Data centers are full of sharp objects that can lacerate the skin or slice through fingers or toes. Personal protective equipment (PPE), such as leather or aramid fiber gloves, will prevent injuries from sharp objects. Protective footwear will provide safety to feet, and hardhats will offer protection from falling objects.

 

OSHA has created a thorough resource on the safety equipment that will help protect workers from the dangers of sharp objects.

5. Hazardous Materials in the Fire Suppression System

Fire suppression systems may use hazardous materials. Respirators are essential for those who will be exposed to these materials.

 

Workers should be trained on the hazards and safety procedures for handling each extinguishing agent, and the Material Safety Data Sheet for each extinguishing agent should be easily accessible.

 

It is important that employees know the potential hazards of the extinguishing agents they may be exposed to and how to protect themselves. De Vita says, “In a data center, you usually have raised floors and some type of fire suppression system — Halon systems are very dangerous.”

 

Halon is a bromo freon that creates an oxygen-deficient atmosphere. OSHA lists the following dangers of halon:

 

  • Asphyxiation — Exposure to high concentrations of halon can create an oxygen-deficient atmosphere.

  • Cold Temperature — Direct contact with the vaporizing liquid during discharge can cause frostbite burns to the skin.

  • Central Nervous System (CNS) — Inhaling high concentrations of halon gas can cause dizziness, tingling in extremities and, in severe cases, unconsciousness.

  • Cardiovascular Effect — In some people, exposure to halon can cause an increased sensitivity of the heart to adrenaline resulting in irregular heartbeats and, in severe cases, heart attack.

  • When halon is exposed to temperatures above 900 degrees F, it could break down and create high concentrations of toxic gases.

 

For more information on fire system safety, check out OSHA’s eTool for Fixed Extinguishing Systems. For guidance specifically on halon, look at NFPA 12A, OSHA’s Standard on Halon 1301 Fire Extinguishing Systems.

 

Decommissioning data center equipment is a dangerous task, but following safety guidelines and procedures can protect workers from the hazards involved.

 

If you’re concerned about the details of these essential safety procedures, you may be interested in LEL Decom. We help clients who are moving to colocation, Cloud, or other enterprise data centers to not only quickly and safely dismantle facilities, but also to obtain the maximum value from any legacy data center infrastructure. Feel free to call us at 864-408-8889 to discuss.

 
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