Work at Height Safety Solutions for Petrochemical Plants

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Published on: September 26, 2023

Explosions and exposure to harmful chemicals are hazards that come top-of-mind at refineries and other petrochemical plants. Yet, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that of the 127 fatalities in the oil and gas industry in 2019, nearly half were from transportation incidents, while 14 (11%) were caused by falls, slips, and trips. To the American Petroleum Institute (API), work at height safety is a priority.

Founded in 1919, the API is recognized worldwide for its advocacy, education, and comprehensive standards that support the oil and gas industry. The standards are as far ranging as to what is acceptable accuracy for a metering pump (+1% for those at home keeping score) to fall protection safety rules for working at height.

Since API recommends appropriate fall protection safety devices for more than 4-to-6 feet above the working surface, there are many areas where engineered fall protection solutions will not only save lives and avoid injuries but also ensure regulatory compliance and increase worker productivity.

Spanning the pipe rack safety solutions

Oil refineries, agrochemical plants, power companies, resin producers, and petrochemical facilities that work with acetylene, benzene, ethylene, methane, propane, hydrogen, and the like have a vast amount of elevated piping supported by pipe racks—also known as pipe bridges, pipe corridors, and pipe ways.

The length of all piping at petrochemical plants would likely span the globe several times over. Clearly, there is a significant amount of area to cover for inspections, maintenance, and repairs of piping that require working at height. A variety of site-specific approaches to protect workers at pipe racks are available:

  • Horizontal Lifelines
  • Work Platforms
  • Catwalks / Elevated Walkways
  • Guardrails
  • Stair Access Systems
  • Permanent Ladders with Vertical Lifelines
  • Crossover Ladder Platforms

Work platforms work when and where they’re needed

Besides servicing pipe racks, work access platforms enable employees to inspect, maintain, and repair vehicles, machinery, and other equipment. Fixed or mobile work platforms save time and eliminate the inefficiencies of moving and repositioning ladders. They can usually accommodate multiple workers and give them greater freedom of movement to perform all necessary tasks faster and more thoroughly.

However, the greatest boost in productivity may come from the confidence employees now have in their jobs. They are working with a compliant fall protection system designed to enhance their safety and take full advantage of their capabilities.

Railings from above

For workers who install, maintain, or repair HVAC systems and other building services equipment located on the rooftop, the danger of a fall is obvious. Lifeline and anchor systems are often used to protect workers; however, a modular perimeter guardrail system is preferred on a flat or low-sloped roof.

Since the safety railing system is freestanding and does not penetrate the roof’s surface, it is easy to install and reconfigure. It is also “collective” fall protection because it protects multiple workers at once and –unlike a lifeline—does not require special training and inspections before and after use. This saves valuable time on the job.

Railings from below

Component-based, pipe-fitted guardrails are installed without welding—an underrated safety concern—and provide fall protection for ramps, stairs, mezzanines, and elsewhere throughout the plant. Aluminum and galvanized steel safety railings are strong, durable, and corrosion-resistant, though aluminum stands up better in harsh chemical environments. It is equally essential that the metal railings comply with OSHA regulations 1910.29 (e.g., railing height, load rating).

Gates in front and from behind

Self-closing safety gates delineate safe passageways and automatically close behind the employee. They complement rooftop railings where the roof is accessed by a ladder and ground-based systems to help prevent falls from stairways and ramps.

Flexible thinking about rigid rails

Rigid rail systems feature sturdy tracks to mount a trolley and a retractable lifeline system so that workers can perform tasks from above. This is ideal for loading and unloading products from rail cars and servicing vehicles and equipment. They provide fall protection for heights from four feet and higher.

Unique safety solution for storage tanks

Above-ground storage tanks require cleaning, monitoring, maintenance, and other servicing that entails working at height. Tank anchors clamp to the vents on top of the tanks to provide travel restraint and fall arrest.

Which solution is best for you?

If you are responsible for worker safety at a petrochemical plant, contact Flexible Lifeline Systems. We can discuss your needs and concerns about regulatory compliance, visit your site to conduct a safety audit and map out a plan. Our services can include as little or as much as you need, from design, engineering, and fabrication to installation, training, and other support.

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