Incorporating safety standards is imperative for any pipeline facility and starts as early as the crucial stage of design at the beginning of the project. The design team, with input from the facility owners/operators, must examine all aspects to determine potentially hazardous situations or other mistakes that could occur during facility operation and product transportation.
By thoroughly thinking through potential worst-case scenarios, pipeline facility designers and owners/operators can promote an environment that has safety at the forefront and mitigates the concerns of nearby residents or businesses. There are some common best practices that designers and owners/operators can implement to minimize hazards at pipeline facilities.
There are over 2 million miles of pipelines throughout the U.S., according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Many pipeline facilities transport hazardous materials, such as natural gas or renewable diesel, and pass by numerous communities. From a mechanical engineering perspective, analyzing the wall thickness of a piping system and evaluating the stresses and forces imposed on it provides a margin of safety in preventing potential pipe failure and product spill.
There are also safety-related regulations pipeline facility engineers must adhere to, including the American Society of Mechanical Engineers piping codes and Department of Transportation standards. Burial depth is also a consideration for safe piping design within pipeline facilities, because they often have buried pipe throughout the facility to help with access throughout the site. Designs must take into account the frost depth of the geographic location, as well as wheel loads from trucks or cranes moving around the site.
Surge is another safety consideration for pipeline facilities. A surge analysis determines how a product surge might the affect the pipeline or extended facility. In addition, a well-designed pipeline facility will typically incorporate safety valves, as well as proper foundation design so it can withstand vibrations caused by rotating equipment. These and other design features are important because they can minimize hazards and prevent dangerous situations.
Design considerations should include protection for personnel working at the site. Dampening sound produced by equipment operating at the facility is imperative to prevent staff from being exposed to high decibel levels, which can lead to hearing loss. Considerations should also be made to keep exit points visible and accessible in the event of an emergency in the facility. Ladders with sturdy anchors and self-closing gates on high-rise platforms should also be incorporated to prevent falls.
With many unmanned pump stations operating along a pipeline, considerations need to be made for the ability to shut down stations from a remote location during an emergency. Adjustments should also be made for staff to have the ability to flexibly move about the facility to safely and efficiently complete their jobs in areas that require in-person operations.
Many engineering disciplines —from structural to electrical — are involved with designing a pipeline facility. By bringing these integrated perspectives together, the site is safer for local communities and the individuals that maintain daily operations. Collaboration is key for a safety-focused pipeline facility that reduces potential public concerns associated with transporting hazardous materials.
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