Comment by BVAA CEO Rob Bartlett

Under Pressure?

As a young greenhorn new to the trade association world, I once got drawn into a conversation where some members’ technical representatives were recounting tales of how personnel had met their ends at work. The tales got ever more grisly, and generally involved an unexpected release of pressure of calamitous proportions.  As a youngster, it was a hard listen. Equally alarming were the number of ‘fluid injection’ injuries, so my association soon embarked on a campaign to raise awareness of both issues.

So it was that, shortly afterwards, I and others were invited to get involved in a revision of the HSE’s Guidance Note GS4 ‘Safety requirements for pressure testing.’ It was during this exercise that I discovered from the HSE that my colleagues’ tales were far from far-fetched, and in anything were a little understated. 

Roll forward a few years again, and I was present at a conference where the new edition of HSE’s GS4 was being launched, and again the audience were given some details of recent deaths, one regrettably being in my new industry. There was even a very unpleasant video of a ballistic gel head being destroyed by a simulated ‘projectile.’

Without getting into the conference paper’s details, it was reported that there had been two relatively recent fatalities, both involving fittings being ejected during a pressure test. Testing on gases was of course the most potentially hazardous, but again there were the dangers of hot oil, injection of fluid, poisoning, and ultimately death and injury in various unpleasant ways.

A recurring theme though was the lack of awareness in industry to the dangers. There were repeated failures in risk assessments, leak-test safety measures, failure to start testing at low-pressure, failure to guard sufficiently, failure to tether/whip-check components likely to become airborne, absence of safe systems of work, test procedures, and particularly any form of programme for the maintenance and selection of fittings. Repeated use of the same fittings over and over, and the damage caused by brutal handling of them, was noted to be a particular hazard. Some fittings had been identified as being in constant use for over 20 years and no plans for the regular rotation of fittings were in place! Lamentably, there was a regular failure to physically segregate test personnel from items under test.

Subsequent editions of GS4 still note all the above issues, and I’ve personally seen them all on my various factory tours.

Recently I had the pleasure of seeing a member completely upgrading their own testing facility, to the highest levels. But I wonder how many companies actually train their staff about the hazards associated with pressure testing too?

BVAA has recently developed, and successfully delivered in industry, our own Hydrostatic Testing course. Our one-day course takes delegates through what hydrostatic testing is, covers what can go wrong, instructs good testing practice and safe systems of working, and covers the correct selection and maintenance of pressure equipment. There is even a test at the end to confirm understanding. 

I believe this really should be a minimum education requirement for all those involved in pressure testing.

Published: 26th July 2022

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