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Enhancing Pipeline Safety

Pipeline construction offers building firms the opportunity to work on lucrative projects and grow their businesses. Of course, pipeline construction work is also among the most dangerous professions in the country, so there is a great deal of risk for the reward of working on these exciting projects. In this article, an OSHA attorney with Cotney Construction Law will discuss pipeline work and how contractors can develop a risk assessment plan to ensure that work and inspections are performed in the safest possible way. Remember, to ensure compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), consult an experienced OSHA defense attorney today.

Understanding Pipeline Construction

Before our OSHA defense attorneys discuss pipeline construction safety, lets first discuss the process a construction firm goes through when working on one of these projects. For example, after permitting is in place, including easement agreements, there are a variety of opportunities to work on pipeline projects. Once construction zones are flagged and the construction staging process begins, the following seven procedures are performed:  

  1. Pre-Construction: Areas flanking the marked areas are utilized for stockpiling necessary equipment and supplies needed to begin the construction process. Materials, equipment, and heavy machinery are staged by the pipeline pathway.  
  2. Timber Extraction: After equipment and supplies are placed in accessible areas, timber is cleared to install the pipeline. Debris is burned while timber is cut down and hauled off. The next step is trenching a pipeline pathway.   
  3. Excavation: During the excavation process, the pipeline trench is dug and cleared out. Any large rocks and other impediments are removed with heavy machinery.
  4. Drilling: A pipeline system will run into several obstacles along its course, including densely populated areas, abandoned mines, roads, highways, or bodies of water. When construction is needed for a deeper placement of the pipeline, this process is referred to as horizontal directional drilling (HDD).
  5. Installation: After trenching is performed, pipe materials are transported to the location and stockpiled in the same staging area mentioned previously. Pipe sections are then systematically placed along the pipeline route and eventually welded together. After the sections are attached, they are coated to prevent any type of corrosion from occurring.
  6. Inspection: After sections of the pipeline are assembled, the pipeline is closely inspected to ensure that each section was constructed to the highest quality. After the inspection process, the trench is filled, and the pipeline company begins a process known as hydrostatic testing.
  7. Testing: After removing millions of gallons of water from the pipeline path, water is then sent through the pipeline to ensure that it can handle maximum pressure. If the integrity of the pipeline is not compromised, the pipeline is considered operational. The area is then fertilized and markers are placed along the path of the pipeline for each section.          

Understanding Safety Risks on Pipeline Construction

As an OSHA lawyer discussed in the previous section, pipeline construction offers many great opportunities to construction professionals, including:

  • Installing sections of the pipeline
  • Staging equipment and supplies
  • Excavation projects
  • Removing timber and other debris
  • Welding or reshaping sections of the pipeline
  • Developing supporting infrastructure alongside the pipeline  
  • Inspecting the integrity of the pipeline
  • Horizontal directional drilling
  • Upgrading or improving existing stations
  • Hydrostatic testing

Any of these exciting projects require a great deal of knowledge and implementation of the highest level of safety protocols. When working in an area of construction like pipeline construction, a serious accident can not only threaten the lives of everyone on the jobsite, but pipeline projects also present a great deal of risk to the public and the environment. Pipeline projects are an area of construction that is under the microscope of the public eye, and for good reason. These projects present a significant risk of negative consequences occurring including:

  • Heavy machinery accidents
  • Dangerous surrounding elements
  • Collapsed trenches
  • Slip and fall injuries
  • Falling objects
  • Explosions or fires
  • Gas leaks
  • Failing infrastructure
  • Exposure to hazardous chemicals and other public health risks

Because of these ever-present risks, site managers must develop a strategy that mitigates risks and ensures the safety of their workers, the surrounding community, and the environment.  

Understanding Risk Assessment

No matter the size of the project, contractors and site managers must always perform a risk assessment. We have covered risk assessment in the past, which includes the process of evaluating any of the potential risks present on the jobsite. Once you determine the likelihood and potential consequences of each risk present on a project, you can then move forward with a plan to mitigate these adverse elements from occurring.

Although every project should have a risk evaluation process, pipeline construction projects have a heightened need for a risk analysis segment of the project. Considering the potential negative outcomes and severity that an adverse impact can have on the workforce, public, and environment, it’s critical that contractors assess any hazardous elements, perform thorough inspections, and assess any and all potential consequences in case of an emergency situation. Although safety is the primary concern, contractors must also be mindful of the rules and regulations set forth by OSHA. To ensure your projects are compliant with these laws, consult the experienced OSHA defense lawyers at Cotney Construction Law. .   

Risk Assessment Steps for a Pipeline Inspection

Whether you’re working on a multimillion dollar pipeline project or a roofing system in residential construction, contractors must begin each project with a few steps that help them determine the risk of potential consequences for a project. For a pipeline inspection, the following steps should be taken:

  • Measuring Failure: the primary reason to perform a risk evaluation is to identify potential causes that lead to failure. After identifying the risks, the contractor then needs to calculate a probability rate of the chances of such a failure occurring. For example, when inspecting a pipeline, a pressure test or inspection would be one of the methods utilized to determine the likelihood of a system failure.
  • Determine the Consequences: along with identifying the potential risk and likelihood of failure occurring, the contractor needs to determine the potential outcome if this failure occurred. If there was a small leak in the pipeline, what would be the consequence of this failure? If there was a significant rupture in the pipeline, what would be the most likely outcome of this failure? Clearly, the high-risk scenarios need to be prioritized over the low-risk ones during this assessment.
  • Evaluating the Entire Pipeline: after reviewing one section of a pipeline, risk analysis then needs to be performed for the entire pipeline system. During this inspection, the contractor is evaluating any changes to the pipeline’s structural integrity and also considering any possible scenarios that could occur due to these changes.
  • Assessing the Surrounding Environment: lastly, the risk of the surrounding environment and community in close proximity of the pipeline needs to be assessed when considering the potential consequences of pipeline failures.

Whether it’s employees that are at risk, identifying hazards, or making regular inspections, pipeline risk assessments not only include the need for intimate knowledge of these pipeline systems, but also requires the professional to be capable of analyzing risks, determining the likelihood of failure, the consequences if this occurred, and also the surrounding environment that would be negatively impacted by this failure.  

As every project presents safety risks, consult a knowledgeable and experienced attorney to ensure you are compliant with OSHA standards and other important federal and state regulations.

If you would like to speak with an OSHA defense lawyer, please contact us today.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.