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Pipeline, safety, compliance and maintenance tips for this season

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article image James Maslin with an OPAP anti-pollution stopper

Concerns about spills involving chemicals, waste and various potentially harmful materials have prompted Safe Work Australia to introduce its Code of Practice for Managing Risks of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace. The accidental spills of hazardous materials in workplaces can enter the environment through drains and watercourses, seeping into the ground and contaminating the soil or groundwater.

The Code requires companies to develop good handling procedures for workplaces to minimise the chance of such spills, and also have a spill management protocol in place to make sure spills are safely cleaned up. It stipulates that those conducting businesses or undertakings must manage risks associated with the use, handling, generating or storing of hazardous chemicals in a workplace, including identifying foreseeable hazards and eliminating the risk so far as is practicable.

Inflatable pipe stoppers are increasingly attracting interest in Australasia as an effective method for stopping and sealing pipelines in maintenance and environmental protection applications. Inflatable pipe stoppers can be rapidly deployed, easily transported and widely applied in remote, temporary and permanent industrial situations.

James Maslin, National Sales Manager for Air Springs Supply Pty Ltd, which distributes a broad range of Pronal inflatable stoppers suitable for all types of pipelines including concrete, cast iron, steel, stainless steel and PVC, observes that pipelines are a major component of such a risk management strategy; however, while many companies are becoming aware of the issues involved, others have yet to understand them fully.

Elastomer products specialists Pronal, the company that produced the inflatable bags used to lift sections of the liner Titanic from nearly four kilometres underwater in the Atlantic Ocean, manufacture these enormously strong pipe stoppers.

According to Mr Maslin, the issues involved in pipeline maintenance and safety are particularly acute during the maintenance season, when companies may be handling increased quantities and types of hazardous materials associated with cleaning, vehicle maintenance and plant upkeep, for example.

These maintenance, testing and emergency situations require stoppers that can be rapidly and securely deployed to provide primary or secondary safety and environmental security as required by both Safe Work Australia and State Environmental Protection Agencies. 

Sometimes such stoppers are permanently located in pipelines for instant remote inflation with compressed air or other gas where there is a risk of toxic runoff at different stages of production, or where spillages occur. In other instances, they are used to seal off sections of pipe where leaks are occurring, serving the dual role of enabling pressurisation of that section to allow leaks to be detected, then protecting the men in the pipeline from any product flows while they work to fix the problem.

Pronal inflatable stoppers are suitable for all types of pipelines including concrete, cast iron, steel, stainless steel and PVC. They are extremely strong and durable in service, being hot vulcanised in a mould to give excellent service life. External surfaces are also customised to particular needs, such as exposure to gas or petroleum products or where long term installation is required. 

Pronal inflatable pipe stoppers are used for maintenance, testing and emergency tasks in applications as diverse as oil and gas delivery, industrial and municipal water and waste water, and pollution prevention in mining, energy and industrial projects where sealing and testing operations need to be conducted not only with complete safety and environmental security, but also with considerable speed to maintain flows of liquids and gases.

One of the latest pipe stoppers employed in Australasia is a custom-fabricated OFR type, to fit a pipe with an inside diameter of 900mm. Multi-sized stoppers are also available in an expanded range spanning pipes measuring 45-2115mm diameter in stock sizes and up to 3000mm for customised types. Different ranges respond to the needs of particular industries and pressure requirements, with VPE and ORJ types being used for pressures up to one bar and OPV types for pressures up to 3 bar. Higher pressure stoppers are also available.

Ongoing protection against contamination of waterways from spills into water and sewerage lines is provided by Pronal’s OPAP and OFR Pollu-Plug stoppers, which are permanently and unobtrusively fitted in water and sewerage lines ready for instantaneous inflation by remote triggering as soon as an emergency arises in industrial, civil and municipal applications.

In normal situations, the un-inflated stopper allows regular non-polluted contents to pass beneath the elastomer-coated Pollu-Plug, which in its deflated condition mirrors the inside of the top of the pipeline in which it is located. It is connected by an air supply line to an all-weather control panel and nitrogen inflation cylinder supplied by the customer and located outside the pipe.

When water flow needs to be stopped, inflatable stoppers create an airtight seal within the pipe, effectively stopping the flow to enable professionals in different industries to do their job and resolve the situation. They are also highly versatile in applications such as testing air, gas and water pressure, and even allowing the injection of chemicals or dyes into a pipeline when facilitating cleaning or locating leaks in designated sections between two stoppers. By using the bypass function within the appropriate stopper, chemicals can be introduced, then subsequently either diluted for disposal or purged to the tanker or reservoir. 

Key advantages of the technology also include simplicity, portability and re-use. Pronal inflatable pipe stoppers eliminate the need for the maintenance crew to carry huge amounts of gear on-site; the stoppers are easy to transport around plants, especially in remote locations, where they can be used, moved on, and used again. 

Based on more than 40 years of producing specialist pneumatic elastomer designs for demanding applications, including government, military, heavy industrial, emergency service, sub-sea and exploration, Pronal products are very secure and offer an ideal method to achieve compliance with statutory requirements in a cost-effective and efficient manner. 

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