API develops recommended practices for refineries

The American Petroleum Institute is issuing a new recommended practice covering the placement of portable structures at refineries and petrochemical plants.

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, June 20 -- The American Petroleum Institute is issuing a new recommended practice covering the placement of portable structures at refineries and petrochemical plants. RP 753 will be formally released on June 21 following several months of discussions by a taskforce of refiners, labor unions, and consultants, API officials said June 20.

The new recommended practice came in response to the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board's urgent recommendation on Oct. 25, 2005, that API develop industry guidance for portable structures at processing facilities. CSB made the recommendation during its investigation of the March 23, 2005, explosion and fire at BP America Inc.'s Texas City, Tex., refinery that killed 15 people and injured 180 other workers.

RP 753 would ban light-wood trailers from a defined zone near process areas, prohibit nonessential personnel from being housed in any portable building (including blast-resistant structures) in or near process areas, and provide a simplified method for users with limited resources to safely place portable buildings, according to API.

The recommended practice also would provide controls over changes to people, location, and building designs, and require analysis of all occupied portable buildings near process areas, API said.

"We're trying to give people tools for looking at their individual circumstances," API Pres. Red Cavaney told reporters during a June 20 teleconference. "How and when each company implements this recommended practice is an individual decision. But I know many companies already have taken steps of their own," he said.

Rigorous approach
It took several months to develop the recommended practice after API determined that one was needed because the association follows the American National Standards Institute's formal, comprehensive, and rigorous approach, Cavaney said. "Speed shouldn't trump full and thorough consideration of these issues," he said.

The taskforce included members of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, chemical companies, consulting firms, and API members.

The procedure will join RP 752, which outlines the siting of process plant buildings. The API taskforce will begin to review RP 752 once it formally issues RP 753. It also will formally brief CSB, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the United Steelworkers on RP 753's features on June 21.

Those features include the establishment of three zones for placing portable buildings, based on external cloud explosions and using technical data from CSB and other organizations. Minimum distances, based on the size of the unit (or congested volume), are recommended, starting with 330 ft for the smallest unit. Light-wood trailers cannot be located closer than 330 ft from a process unit. For larger units, the minimum distance is 570 ft.

For plants that do not have the technical resources to perform a detailed consequence analysis or quantitative risk analyses, RP 753 sets a minimum range of 300-1,930 ft for portable structures. "A company still needs to conduct a detailed analysis to determine where to place these portable structures. If it is unable to, they should be farther out," API senior attorney Erik Milito said.

The document also provides guidance for placing personnel, Milito said. "The main thrust is to keep employees, contract workers, and temporary structures far from areas where their presence is not essential."

Contact Nick Snow at nsnow@cox.net.

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