Combustion Safety - a standardized approach

Systems burning fuel are inherently dangerous without proper controls. Over the years, we have learned from experience that certain precautions will minimize the chances of disaster. At first, most of these safety measures were based on operator training ("air out the furnace before you light the burner in case a fuel/air mixture has collected inside"). With improvements in automation, today we supplement training with hardware and software safeguards, such as flame scanners, automatic valves, high temperature switches, etc. Despite all of this, training is still vital to safe operation!

In the U.S., the primary compilation of safety guidelines comes from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA, website Because NFPA continues to update its combustion safety guidelines, most insurance carriers accept them outright or use them as a core around which to build their own specialized rules. Various NFPA standards are available for purchase from the organization. The guidelines covering ovens and furnaces are contained in NFPA86-99. The following is a brief summary of the main provisions of NFPA86-99:

  1. NFPA guidelines are not hard rules, but are intended to be modified and fitted to each specific combustion system.
  2. NFPA guidelines address combustor hardware and controls, as well as procedures and training for maintenance and operations personnel.
  3. All operating, maintenance and certain supervisory personnel must be trained (and retrained on a scheduled basis) to maintain a high level of proficiency. Training must be conducted by "qualified persons", which can be drawn from inside or outside the operating company. The training is to address the combustion safety related aspects of the particular combustor being considered. Generalized combustion safety training can be part of the program, but the training program must address the specific hardware and operating characteristics of each combustor.
  4. Operating instructions are to be covered by the training. The operating instructions (written by the combustor manufacturer if possible) are to include schematic piping and wiring diagrams, startup procedures, shutdown procedures, emergency procedures and hardware maintenance procedures.
  5. The combustor operators must learn about combustion of fuel/air mixtures, explosion hazards, sources of ignition, functions of control and safety devices, handling of special atmospheres (including low oxygen atmospheres), handling of hazardous materials (if present), confined space entry procedures and the specific combustor operating procedures noted above.
  6. Equipment maintenance is to be in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions (if available). Inspection, testing and maintenance of all safety devices will be performed on a regular schedule. Documented safety inspections and testing must be performed at least once per year. When the combustor manufacturer no longer exists, plant personnel must develop adequate written operational checks and maintenance procedures.
  7. Any changes to combustor safety hardware or software must be documented, approved and maintained in a file at the plant site.
  8. NFPA86-99 provides "typical" checklists (including air filter maintenance, thermocouple testing, pressure switch checks, etc.) which might be performed every shift, every month and yearly. The actual checklist for a combustor should include items specific to that hardware package.

NFPA 85 lists specific guidelines for fired boilers.  These include special features required to operate a high pressure system safely.

Adherence to the spirit and letter of the NFPA guidelines can demonstrate an operating company's commitment to combustion safety.

Banks Engineering can help establish or update combustor operating and maintenance procedures and training programs to satisfy NFPA and similar guidelines.