Safety is of vital importance when fencing near all utility infrastructure, but specifically gas pipelines, which in the worst case can result in death or injury.
Here, Australia’s largest pipeline operator, APA, outlines some common misconceptions around the requirements when working in proximity to the company’s more than 15,000 km of transmission pipeline assets.
From small beginnings in 2000, APA Group has grown to become one of Australia’s leading energy infrastructure businesses. The company is now a top 50 ASX-listed entity, owns and operates the country’s largest interconnected gas transmission network and employs 1,700 people.
APA delivers smart, reliable and safe energy solutions via industry knowledge and interconnected infrastructure.
Working around the company’s gas transmission pipelines may require APA authorisation and supervision.
Be aware that APA owns and operates both transmission and network pipelines, and working around transmission pipelines requires additional actions and controls to effectively manage the higher risk.
Unfortunately, one of the most common forms of unauthorised works near APA pipelines is fencing.
Apart from the risk of personal injury or death, damage to gas pipelines may result in prosecution or cost recovery, which could have a heavy impact on your business.
Using the Dial Before You Dig (DBYD) service is the best way to help APA protect the critical gas transmission infrastructure that we all rely on, and keep everyone safe.
Letting APA know about your project and works is an important step that will help you to deliver your project and works without incident. Please read the DBYD response carefully and follow the instructions.
If a transmission pipeline is affected this includes the requirement to call APA to discuss your proposed works, APA is here to work with you, so you can get your job done efficiently and safely.
If you are planning any fencing around underground assets and, in particular, around APA’s gas transmission pipelines, ask yourself or your team if the common misconceptions listed on the next page sound familiar.
I’ve worked around gas pipelines before, I know what I can & can’t do
APA has found many of the incidents caused by third parties working around the company’s assets have been caused by experienced people.
Workers do not always appreciate they may be working around high pressure gas transmission pipelines, wrongly assuming they are working around lower pressure gas distribution pipelines.
There may be very different requirements and levels of risk in each case. In addition to APA, there are multiple pipeline operators each with their own processes and requirements that must be observed. Don’t assume that previous experience will apply.
Fencing won’t be a problem — I’ll just go ahead without checking for underground services
Unauthorised fencing activities are one of the leading causes of incidents over APA’s pipelines and can place the pipeline and it’s coating at risk.
APA assesses proposed post depth and distance from the pipeline before authorising fencing activities.
Fencing should also not block line-of-sight between the pipeline marker signs, or result in restricted access for patrols and maintenance.
In many cases, particularly in rural areas, APA has transmission pipelines in easements through private property.
The terms of the easements typically provide for APA access along the easement and prevent placement of structures or obstructions. Therefore, any fencing across the easement must not proceed without assessment and authorisation.
APA will not unreasonably stop fencing, but will work with the landowner and fencer to ensure adequate access is maintained.
It’s only a quick job: I won’t get caught, and even if I do, nothing will happen
APA patrols its pipelines on a regular basis and it is highly likely your works will be detected. The works will be stopped and you will need to reinstate the site and wait until you have the correct authorisation, taking you more time than if you had followed the correct process.
You will also be responsible for the significant cost of any works that are required to check and repair pipeline integrity. Penalties under state pipeline legislation may also be applicable.
Death or injury can’t result if I hit the pipeline
Australia has not experienced any death or injury resulting from the rupture of a gas transmission pipeline; however, there have been incidents of rupture and ignition, resulting from third party interference. In addition, there have been many international incidents where third party interference has resulted in rupture and ignition, causing multiple fatalities and serious injuries.
I only scratched the pipeline, it will be fine
Damaging the coating or the pipeline itself in any way diminishes the asset’s integrity and can reduce the wall thickness or create a pathway for corrosion to form. This may result in future failure, and any suspected pipeline strike requires excavation to check and maintain pipeline integrity.
The pipeline is deep enough that my works will be clear
Pipeline depth of cover does vary, at the design stage, and throughout a pipeline’s life due to earthworks, erosion and subsidence.
Fencing is easily capable of extending to the depth of transmission pipelines, and APA needs to confirm pipeline depth before works are authorised and undertaken.
The landowner has done the DBYD, so I’m OK to go
As the one doing the works you must ensure you have a copy of the DBYD response, even if someone else has made the enquiry. Furthermore, you must ensure the DBYD is current, and ensure that all subsequent required actions have been completed. This includes calling APA where required, and obtaining written authorisation if necessary.
DBYD is the essential first step, but your duty of care doesn’t end there.
DBYD is not required if digging less than 300 mm
This is incorrect. The depth of excavation is not the only aspect of proposed work that APA will assess. Even if your works are minor, the company still needs to know and provide authorisation so that when APA spots the activity it knows what is happening.
Pipeline marker signs show the exact location of the pipeline
Never assume that marker signs are located directly above the pipeline. They are in many instances offset to the alignment.
I’ll just get a locator service to find the pipeline and then I can proceed safely
Third party location of APA assets is not acceptable. The company is happy to schedule an on-site location for your project or works. In limited cases positive proving of the pipeline may be required.
Supervision can be organised immediately or at short notice
A spotter or supervision of works by APA is scheduled according to procedural requirements. Works should be planned to accommodate the scheduling process.
I can use vacuum excavation without needing to contact the pipeline operator
Vacuum excavation and water lancing can damage pipeline coating. Any of these activities around APA assets require supervision by one of the company’s permit issuing officers, and must observe strict pressure limits.
HERE TO HELP
APA has seen the risks, expenses and time incurred as a result of these misconceptions. If you would like to discuss any of these points, contact APA on 1800 103 452 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The company is happy to come to your workplace and present to your organisation on the risks and requirements when working around gas transmission pipelines.
It is also important to understand that if you follow the right processes, APA will work closely with you to assist you and ensure your project proceeds smoothly.
Together, this will improve your project planning and implementation so that everyone goes home safe.
This article was first published in The Fence magazine.