BPA has recently purchased new, lightweight aluminum gas canisters for a pilot that will allow maintenance technicians to more easily transport vital gases to remote facilities.

This project is a much-needed solution. It is another example of BPA listening to its people to provide a healthier and safer work environment.

Richard Shaheen, Transmission Services senior vice president. 

BPA’s Transmission Field Services will soon reap the benefits of a new pilot project aimed at reducing workplace injuries in the field.

The agency has recently purchased a new type of lightweight aluminum canister that will allow maintenance technicians to easily transport vital gases to remote substations. These lightweight canisters are roughly a third of the overall weight of current canisters in use, translating into a reduced risk of injury that is consistent with BPA’s embrace of safety as a core value for the agency.

“This project is a much-needed solution. It is another example of BPA listening to its people to provide a healthier and safer work environment,” says Richard Shaheen, Transmission Services senior vice president. “This serves as an excellent example of engineering out a safety risk. I am proud of those involved for their teamwork and using a data-driven approach to solve this problem.”

Currently, BPA utilizes four types of gases. The most widely employed in the field, accounting for roughly 78% of the consumed gases, is technical-grade nitrogen. BPA primarily uses this gas at substations to preserve the oil that cools and insulates older transformers. The gas is also used at some microwave radio sites for waveguides. Waveguides channel communications between an antenna and rack-mounted equipment. The nitrogen gas is stored in steel cannisters that weigh approximately 140 pounds. These sites cannot be accessed by forklifts, leaving a single worker to maneuver these heavy cannisters by hand. 

In January, Redmond Transmission Field Services staff recommended that BPA consider transitioning away from steel canisters to a lighter option: aluminum. Aluminum canisters weigh only 48 pounds and would allow one worker to unload, transport and replace used canisters with significantly more ease.

Since 2013, there have been six on-the-job injuries due to lone delivery of steel cannisters at remote sites across BPA’s service territory. Recognizing the potential for injury, Transmission Field Services worked closely with Supply Chain’s Logistics Management and Materials Management teams to procure the lighter weight canisters.

Before Transmission made the investment, a business case was created first to better understand the scope of the problem and how to best establish a winning solution.

“To ensure the best outcome, we knew an analytical approach was needed,” said Jason Zoesch, the supervisory supply systems analyst in Materials Management. “The team’s work would help the executive team make a well-informed decision looking at all the potential risks.”

After careful evaluation, staff recommended first testing the aluminum cylinders in the field instead of replacing all steel canisters at once. This pilot provides field staff the opportunity to determine if the new canisters met their needs or if another solution is needed after the test trial.

In mid-April, BPA purchased 80 aluminum canisters for the pilot. Once the canisters are received in July, Nathan Seabury, the operations and maintenance manager for the Redmond District, will distribute one canister to each of the multiple field maintenance sites that require nitrogen.

If this pilot proves successful, BPA will acquire additional cylinders to meet the requirements across our service territory. Staff anticipate that it may take up to three years to fully replace all cylinders at remote locations with aluminum.

“I’ve had the opportunity to speak to the functional teams responsible for maintaining microwave sites and substations, and we’ve only received positive feedback. The technicians are excited to receive the new canisters,” says Seabury. “I’m especially thankful for the speed at which the replacement canisters were ordered.”

BPA strives to become the safest utility in North America, a process that can only be accomplished by continuously improving the physical and psychological safety of the workforce.

“We encourage every employee to confidently speak up whenever they have concerns or notice potential hazards. This supports a safer and more transparent environment for everyone involved,” said Shaheen.

For more information highlighting how the agency invests in its people and strives to provide a workplace free from safety and health hazards, check out the BPA 2024 – 2028 Strategic Plan.

Old steel canister being replaced by lighter weight aluminum.

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