Sudden Uncontrolled Pressure Release

Date: November 12, 2020

Nancy Rigby, BITCO Home Office Technical Specialist, Risk Control

Precautions for Employers in the Oil and Gas Industry 

Between 2016 and 2018, there were 15 fatalities and 54 hospitalizations from uncontrolled pressure release in the Oil and Gas Industry. NIOSH Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program suggests that developing and following hazardous energy control procedures could prevent worker injuries and fatalities.

Common sources such as gases, steam, crude oil, petroleum products, slurry, chemicals, water, hydraulic, and air can all be fatal when increased pressure is released during the commissioning/decommissioning, maintenance, and repair of pressurized lines and equipment. Workers can also be at risk of being struck by projectile materials when uncontrolled pressure is released. The fact of the matter is pressure can kill and it's important to be aware of this hazard.

What are the Contributing Factors?

There are several causes and triggers that employers should be aware.

Equipment, Valves, and/or Pipe Failures

Using the wrong or worn down equipment can cause a pressure control system to fail. Keep an eye out for mismatched pipes, hammer unions, or valve connections.

Changing Conditions

Whether it's a change in the work process, severe weather, or abnormal operating conditions, a change in conditions can affect the amount of pressure released.

Improper Work Practices

Improper work practices can be a trigger. Examples include: working on live lines without lockout/tagout (LOTO) or isolation protocol, relieving trapped pressure, improper or no installation of pipe restrains or anchors, entering restricted zones, insufficient inspection or maintenance, and lines incorrectly rigged up, marked or identified.

Employer Responsibilities 

As an employer, there are responsibilities you have to ensure you are taking proper precautions to keep employees safe on the jobsite. Employee safety must always be the top priority.

A comprehensive hazardous energy control program is needed to address all forms of hazardous energy in all processes of the operation. Employers should begin by conducting assessments on exposures and hazards at the jobsite such as Risk Assessments, Hazard Assessments, Job Safety Analysis, and Personal Protective Equipment Hazard Assessments. Take time to include employees' opinions in the assessments. Once completed, the program should be reviewed when a process changes, new equipment or material is introduced and at least annually.

The plan must include training to provide employees with an understanding of safe work practices and procedures. Training must occur when hired and before beginning any new task. Here are some specific training topics to focus on:

  • Operating procedures
  • Instruments, pressure relief, and control systems

  • Energy isolation and lockout/tagout procedures
  • Proper equipment design, fabrication, installation, use, and inspection
  • Blow-down/bleed-off procedures
  • Equipment function, drawings, and testing
  • Hot work procedures
  • Established restricted zones
  • PPE
  • Emergency procedures

Teach the employees to stop the job and ask if they are uncertain about potential risks or have questions.

With extensive knowledge in the oil and gas industry, BITCO insures companies involved in on-shore production of petroleum and natural gas, including insurance for operators, drillers and contractors across the country and helps avoid risks. To learn more, find a BITCO agent near you.

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For information purposes only. BITCO's blog content does not address all potential circumstances and is not a substitute for business, safety, or legal consultation.

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