Safely Working with Pressure
Many industrial settings involve work with vessels and piping that operate with extreme pressures. Among these oilfield and refinery workers routinely deal with pressurized fluids and gases in excess of 1000 pounds per square inch. Oilfield operations use fracturing technologies that operate at tens of thousands of pounds per square inch pressure. The hazards associated with these elevated pressures include exposure to leaks or catastrophic failures in which piping or vessels fail completely.
The safety measures taken to offset some of this risk include component testing, the use of personal protective equipment and specific operating procedures. Rigorous component testing must answer questions like what is proof pressure?burst pressure? leakage rate? Personal protective equipment addresses eye protection, hearing protection and other physical protective items. Operating procedures center around awareness and, where possible, gradual ramping up of pressures in processes.
Pressurized systems in industrial processes include individual components like piping, fittings, measurement devices and vessels. These are each subjected to different conditions based on the dynamics of the process. Testing procedures for pressurized operation establish specific data points for each piece of equipment.
Non-destructive evaluations include leak testing and proof testing. These are carried out using measurement equipment that has been calibrated against established standards. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) maintains verifiably accurate instruments for this purpose. Industry regulations typically require that field measurement devices be regularly calibrated against these standards. These procedures ensure that test results are accurate, and components meet specific requirements for safety.
Personal Protective Equipment
Companies that conduct operations in which hazardous conditions exist generally provide employees with safety equipment needed on the job. The different types of equipment may include hard hats for head protection, safety glasses or face shields for eye protection and earplugs or muffs designed to protect hearing. Additionally, specific job functions may require specialized clothing or other items to mitigate safety risks.
Work environments that involve exposure to equipment operating at elevated pressures often include standardized instructions for personnel to raise awareness of dangerous workplace conditions. Safety meetings and briefings may be regularly scheduled and conducted. When specific hazardous operations are to be carried out, employees may participate in safety huddles immediately prior to engaging in the work. Step by step instructions for particularly dangerous pressurized operations may be employed in which multiple individuals must agree before carrying out each step.
Industries in which fluids and gases are handled at high pressures must account for the risks to personnel exposed to these operating conditions. Multiple measures, including testing system components and utilizing safety equipment and procedures, are some of the ways these risks are mitigated.