‘Hydrostatic testing - I still see terrifyingly-bad practice’

BVAA - Hydrostatic Testing On-Site Training

BVAA - Hydrostatic Testing On-Site Training

Published: 2nd July 2024 | Issue 93 Share article:

Rob Bartlett, BVAA

Rob Bartlett, BVAA's CEO

“You can’t put a price on someone’s life!”

BVAA’s CEO, Rob Bartlett reflects on the dangers of poorly managed hydrostatic testing. 

‘Many years ago, in another role, a technical discussion I was involved in veered into a debate about the latest accident in our industry.  It was pretty X-rated stuff, and caused by the unexpected failure of an item undergoing a pressurised test.  A component failed, resulting in a sudden – and in this case fatal – release of stored energy and a lethal projectile.  Pretty sobering for a young engineer.

‘The outcome of the discussion led to my modest involvement in helping with GS4, the Health & Safety Executive’s guidance note on safety requirements for pressure testing.

‘The release of this document was accompanied by quite a high-profile PR campaign, culminating in the premiere of the HSE’s specially commissioned video at an industry exhibition.  The video showed just what happens to a ballistic gel head when a component gets ‘fired’ at it.  It wasn’t pretty.

At about the same time, I was also involved in the development of guidance on the associated issue of pressure injection of fluid, itself a pretty grim and completely avoidable ‘accident’ - where again a safety video was made publicly available.

‘Roll forward a few years, and very early in my present role I was shocked to hear of two more fatalities.  BVAA was on a member-recruitment charge at the time, and I found myself on workshop tours a couple of times a week.  Some of the facilities I visited were exemplary in their safety.  Others were downright horrifying! 

‘I remember one facility where hydrostatic testing was going on in a completely unprotected area in an open workshop, with no mitigation measures and extraordinarily bad practices when it came to visual checks, fitting storage, twisted hoses without whip-check devices and the like.  Having pointed out the shortcomings, I was out of there in seconds! 

‘It would be nice to say “but that’s all in the past”.  Sadly, it isn’t.  When it comes to hydrostatic testing, I still see terrifyingly-bad practice, even in some otherwise exceptional testing facilities.  I’ve seen the same worn fittings stacked in the top of plastic storage bins.  No rotation to ensure equal use, and often literally thrown on top of each other in such a way as to guarantee damaged threads.  Doors left ajar, people “just nipping in” to test bays with items under pressurised test, and complete ignorance of the impact of wear, fatigue, mix-and-match of fittings, etc.  In one video of a test I saw, the gentleman was checking for leaks with his hands, protected only by a woollen glove which would not be much help against fine streams of highly pressurised fluid!’

BVAA’s new Hydrostatic Testing course

BVAA recently introduced a new one-day course on the topic.  Rob notes, ‘We were approached by a member who wanted to ensure their practices were to the highest standards, and BVAA’s Technical Consultant Peter Dix set to work developing a one-day course to cover the fundamentals of Safe & Effective Hydrostatic Testing. 

The course’s goals are to give a good awareness of safe hydrostatic testing practice for valve suppliers, manufacturers and service workshops, and is intended for supervisors as well as technicians conducting the tests.  It is also designed to complement in-house practical training on specific pressure testing equipment. 

It covers the importance of testing, hazards and safe systems of work, the selection and maintenance of pressure equipment and good hydrostatic testing practice.  It also now has the benefit of being run several times with enhancements and refinements made possible for individual sites.  There is a test at the end to confirm understanding.

Rob concludes, ‘As one of our members said on the topic, “you can’t put a price on someone’s life!”’

For more information see On-site Hydrostatic Testing Course - BVAA or contact karen@bvaa.org.uk

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