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On September 13, several towns in the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts experienced first-hand the destruction that can be caused by a natural gas pipeline explosion. One young man lost his life, and the incident raised questions about the future of pipeline safety.

In response to this and other natural gas pipeline disasters across the U.S., the Northeast Gas Association (a regional trade association of the state’s natural gas companies) has agreed to adopt the American Petroleum Institute’s Recommended Practice 1173. This is a Pipeline Safety Management System that was published in 2015, and designed to create a safer working and living environment in areas of natural gas transportation.

Massachusetts will be the first state to implement the Pipeline Safety Management System fully, and could set a precedent for other areas around the country. Natural gas is a necessary and volatile resource, and creating a safe transportation network is essential. Understanding how this affects the construction industry in the state and the rest of the country can keep workers and worksites safe, which is the industry’s number one priority.

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Introducing new protocols that can save lives

A Pipeline Safety Management System (PSMS) is a series of protocols designed to monitor and consistently improve safe work practices for construction and other pipeline-related industries. The management systems also focus on identifying risk factors and using these to prevent potential disasters before they have a chance to occur. This provides new procedures and safety checks that can go a long way toward the prevention of unnecessary and tragic accidents.

Companies that maintain and work directly with natural gas pipelines have a separate set of OSHA regulations that govern their safety procedures. However, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) believes that additional precautions should be implemented in the form of the PSMS to further protect the public and those who come in contact with pipelines—such as construction workers.

The National Transportation Safety Board lists 132 investigated pipeline incidents since 1969, these ranging from fatal explosions to small, easily contained leaks. Although the most recent event was the devastating explosion that took place in September in Massachusetts, residential explosions are more common than anyone would like to admit. The original safety management plan was inspired by a 2010 California explosion that killed eight and resulted in the prosecution of a utility company that was negligent in its pipeline maintenance.

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Using a business-like approach, the system evaluates and creates a network of accountability and risk assessment that filters through every level of management. In Massachusetts, the implementation of the SMS has clarified safety protocols and helped to develop an increasingly effective emergency response plan using the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle, explained below:

Plan

This portion of the cycle involves risk assessment and the development of actionable steps to improve pipeline safety. Each factor of the pipeline placement, maintenance, and operations will be evaluated against potential dangers.

Do

The plan is implemented, and each party is accountable for the success of their portion. Everyone from upper management to maintenance staff will have a part to play.

Check

It’s at this point that the effectiveness of the plan is evaluated using a system of checks. The data is collected and assessed based on the original expectations and desired outcomes. Any incidents and failures are used as a learning tool.

Act

This portion of the cycle allows for a final evaluation of the original plan’s effectiveness before moving back into the “plan” process and starting all over again.

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Pipeline management systems protecting construction companies

The U.S. is the largest consumer of natural gas resources in the world. There are around 3 million miles of underground pipelines snaking across the country, and this requires some serious manpower to maintain. As of 2018, the oil and gas pipeline construction industry was recording revenue of $62 billion in the U.S. With the expansive network, there’s a good chance that construction companies will need to work around or on a natural gas pipeline at some point.

Not only will construction workers need to be apprised of the PSMS, but they will need to know how it can be applied to keep everyone safer. Construction teams play an essential part in risk assessment related to pipeline construction and placement, as their hands-on experience means that they are in a position to be aware of many factors, issues and concerns. However, they need to be educated about the system and how to record and report their findings.

There are also changes that cross over from the pipeline industry into broader aspects of construction. Ethanol is now labeled a hazardous material, and the transportation and inspection regulations of pipeline sections have also undergone significant changes. Finished sections must now be inspected by an outside party that wasn’t involved with the construction, allowing for an objective evaluation of the work.

Every industry related to construction, transportation, and the handling of hazardous materials needs to be held to a higher standard of safety. Mistakes in these industries impact workers and can have catastrophic implications for residents living and working around the sites. When everyone comes together to support the SMS, they make progress towards safer and smarter practices across the board.

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Working with new management systems for safer worksites

There’s a lot the construction industry can learn from the implementation of the PSMS, and pipeline safety procedures are just the start. Improving safety and refining old risk assessment procedures creates an ever-vigilant attitude that goes above and beyond standard OSHA regulations.

Planning and implementing new safety protocols and standards can keep everyone connected and involved in the process. Not only does the PSMS prepare construction workers for contact with pipelines, but it also aids them to create a more cohesive safety plan on their own worksites.

Safety management software plays an integral part in maintaining compliance to standards such as those introduced above, and improving communication efforts. Do you have questions about the new pipeline management system and how it affects the construction industry? For more information, reach out to the experts at SafetyTek today!

 

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