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Pressure Testing Exclusion Zones

Pressure Testing (Hydrostatic & Pneumatic) Exclusion Zone Safety Guidelines

Discussing pressure testing is a broad and detailed topic that encompasses many aspects.  The primary task is to work safely.  Pre-planning and risk mitigation are the core principles. Today’s safety topic does not drill into all aspects of the pressure testing process but will focus mainly on the Exclusion Zones or Safety Zones while performing the pressure test.

Most of you have been around and or have performed pressure testing for a project.  And the exclusion zones are paramount to making sure people remain away from the testing area while a test is being performed.

These guidelines are to assist with the planning and execution of a pressure test event and manage the risk to life, property, and the environment.

  • Elimination of the risk
  • Changing the workspace to control the risk
  • Developing and following work practices and procedures to manage the risk
  • Employing PPE to protect workers from the risk.

Remember that all personnel have and should use “Stop Work Authority” whenever there is a concern during the pressure testing operation.

Remember that all personnel have and should use “Stop Work Authority” whenever there is a concern during the pressure testing operation.

Hazard Assessment and Control

Development of a Test Procedure will highlight the detailed parameters of performing the pressure test. An engineer will provide the plan which identifies the test pressure, how quickly to “Step Up” pressure, holding times at each pressure, duration of test, use of pressure specific valves and other devices, etc.  The pressure testing plan shall details all aspects of the setup.

There are many safety touch-points when it comes to pressure testing and here are just a few:

  1. Perform JSA meeting, review SSSP (Site Specific Safety Plan) and the Pressure Testing Plan prior to starting test.
  2. Follow the plan, review and report any questions about the plan prior to pressuring-up.
  3. Stop Work Authority is mandatory, you see something wrong, ask and or stop work to find out the answer.
  4. Prepare your equipment in advance (Charts, certs, whip checks, etc.).  Don’t let a dead battery ruin your 8-hour pressure test at the last moment.
  5. Setup your Exclusion Zone(s) with barricade tape, fencing or stage live personnel at a distance to monitor the test area and prevent workers, contractors or the public from entering the zone or getting near exposed pipe.
  6. Position test trailer at correct distance and angle to eliminate damage from a rupture.
  7. Pressure up and stage at the benchmarks identified in the plan.
  8. Never tighten a threaded or flanged connection while under pressure.  Never!     
    If it leaks, pressure ALL THE WAY DOWN, then perform the maintenance.
  9. Only authorized personnel shall enter the exclusion zone.
  10. Communications are key, use radios, cell phones to remain in contact with remote staged personnel and others.
  11. Approach risers and other exposed above ground piping areas after pressuring down.
  12. Don’t be impatient, follow the plan and work safe.

The Hierarchy of Controls chart from NIOSH is a great example of how risk mitigation works. 
Visit Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for details.

General Worksite Safety

Incorporate general worksite safety precautions and procedures, as applicable.

The following are examples of general worksite safety precautions and procedures which may be incorporated into the SSSP.

  • Adequate lighting should be available throughout testing operations.
  • Safety equipment and supplies should be readily available and should include, but are not limited to:
    Emergency spill kit.
  • Fire extinguisher.
  • Ladders.
  • Mobile light plants.
  • Whip checks.

Install mats or utilize secured ladders for access to test header valves. If using mat bridges across the excavation, handrails must be installed if elevated 6' above a lower level.

Provide for and require the installation of devices that mark the limits of the exclusion zone.

Keep unauthorized personnel out of the test area.

Inform all affected site and community personnel of the planned test.

Provide for and require that equipment and materials are arranged to give unobstructed access/egress during testing and in the event of an emergency.

Establish lines of communication between the Owner/Facility, Contractor, and local authorities.

Provide for and require the use of reliable transportation and communication systems during all aspects of the testing event.

Exclusion Zone
Precautions should be taken to see that people not directly engaged in the testing operations remain out of the test area during the test period.

Provide for and require that signs, barricades or other protective barriers are placed in a manner and at a distance sufficient to demarcate a safe zone to protect personnel and the public from unanticipated pressure release or equipment failure.

  1. For hydrotesting only, a minimum distance of 50 feet should be maintained between facilities that are being tested and any person, whether it be the public or the personnel conducting the test. The safe distance may be increased, and the temperature probe, manifold and recorders may have to be set back further than 50 feet due to potential projectiles or extreme volume/pressure. Best Practice: 50'-100'.

  2. For pneumatic testing, the exclusion zones are significantly larger than for hydrotesting by orders of magnitude. The exclusion zones must be established on a case by case basis by the responsible engineer. Factors such as pipe size, test pressure, total test footage and surrounding structures affect the size of the exclusion zone and must be considered by the engineer to establish the appropriate exclusion zone for each pneumatic test. Best Practice: 150' - 200' or more.

  3. In locations where space is limited (urban areas), install K-rail or other appropriate physical barriers (i.e. steel box, or equipment to block blast) around the exposed pipe to protect the public. If K-rail or other appropriate physical barriers are used in lieu of the established safety perimeter, all facilities within line of site must be properly protected. Example 1: The highest point of the test head should not be above the top of the physical barrier. Example 2: The facility being tested is located inside an excavation and is visible to passing pedestrians or vehicle. All facilities within line of site without the established safety perimeter must be protected.

  4. Restrict access to the immediate area involving the pressure test (i.e., test shelter, manifolds, pressure pumps, instruments, etc.) to only those persons actively engaged in the testing operation.

  5. Set up test equipment outside of the safety zone and use caution ribbon to restrict access around the test equipment.

  6. During pressure testing events, distinct warning signs, such as DANGER – HIGH PRESSURE TESTING IN PROGRESS must be posted at the test site and additional locations identified in the job specific safety plan.

  7. When testing in a populated area, an extensive public relations campaign (e.g., warning signs, barricade tape, strobe lights, and/or security guards) may be required to inform and protect the public from hazards associated with testing activities.

  8. Notification
    1. Residents within close proximity of the facility being tested, and state and local enforcement agencies, if applicable, should be advised by the Owner/Operator of the testing program and kept informed of the progress, as necessary.
    2. When testing at or above 100% SMYS, consider clearing the safety zone for the entire length of pipe being tested.

Exclusion Safety Zones are also important for pigging operations. Below is a quick clip of foam pig ejection. What safety exclusion zone do we have here?

Take time to do it right! Go home safe!

We are pleased to announce that we have partnered up with Boot Barn to offer all Encompass inspectors a 15% discount on all purchases “work related” from the Boot Barn, Nation Wide. Be sure to tell them you work for Eagle Infrastructure Services and use the key word: “Safety First” to receive the discount.