When discussing risk management efforts, many in the industry reference failsafe systems. While these systems can prove invaluable, they can also provide a false sense of security and allow facilities to overlook major safety concerns.
Failsafe equipment, defined by dictionary.com as “a secondary system that ensures continued operation even if the primary system fails,” may function as a backup solution, but does not necessarily ensure proper function of vital process controls during a fire. In any plant or refinery emergency, control is most important factor and often failsafe equipment lacks the technological sophistication to make critical decisions about when to initiate shutoff. Tripped prematurely, failsafe shutdowns might lead to even more unsafe conditions or costly facility issues.
Safety: Beyond Minimum Standards
With human life at stake, companies must consider safety concerns beyond the minimum requirements of OSHA, EPA or local industry standards. Failsafe equipment, which rarely includes a sufficient level of fireproofing, is often susceptible to damage and failure in the event of a high-temperature-rise fire.
Risk management teams and engineers should implement a vigilant and dynamic approach to safety and reevaluate any design that includes failsafe equipment, but no form of passive fire protection. Passive fire protection offers a solution for protecting critical process and failsafe equipment for short periods of time, enabling equipment to properly shut down the flow of hazardous liquids and minimize safety threats or facility damage.
Choosing a Passive Fire Protection System for Failsafe Equipment
Even when they call for passive fire protection systems, standard safety recommendations rarely include detailed studies about what fire protection methods are most appropriate. With a variety of available passive fire protection options, locating a suitable fireproofing system might appear difficult at first.
When evaluating passive fire protection systems for failsafe equipment, engineers must consider the amount of available space surrounding critical equipment and the ability to access equipment during a fire or for routine maintenance.
Another “…important criterion in deciding which system is most appropriate for fire exposure protection” according to the Health and Safety Executive, a UK industrial safety watchdog organization, “is the likely duration of the exposure to fire.” Standards and recommendations from organizations like the National Fire Protection Agency,® Underwriters Laboratories,® and the American Society for Testing and Materials® offer helpful guidelines for evaluating fire protection products.
Reviewing relevant safety recommendations and standards beyond OSHA, EPA or local regulators and implementing fireproofing systems to ensure the proper function of critical and failsafe controls greatly improves facility worker safety and reduces the significant risk of disaster in the petroleum industry.
What steps has your facility taken to improve worker safety beyond the minimum national and local safety regulations for your facility or plant?