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A LIFE-SAVING DECADE FOR WORKERS IN REFINERIES AND CHEMICAL FACILITIES

There are 135 refineries in the U.S., many built-in 1940 to 1970s, that require ongoing maintenance and upgrades for their safe operations. Clustered around these refineries are thousands of petrochemical facilities that feed off the feedstock and byproducts of the refineries.

Working in the process area of plants has always been a risky endeavor. Whether by human error or mechanical malfunction, hydrocarbon explosions would sometimes occur. Many conceptualized the idea of a blast-proof modular building or blast-proof portable building, but there was no such thing.

For decades, it was an industry practice to locate wood-framed trailers into the process area to provide proximity of turnaround and maintenance work

1995 to 2000 – DATA-DRIVEN RESPONSE

In the early 1990s, OSHA determined that many deaths were from the splintering of sub-standard structures, which became the killing agent to human life during a blast. The highest loss of life was in or near wood-frame buildings.

The first Recommended Practice concerning blast-resistant structures was API RP 752, released in 1995. It provided guidelines for managing hazards associated with the location of permanent, occupied buildings in process areas and developed for refineries, petrochemical, and chemical operations, natural gas liquids extraction plants, natural gas liquefaction plants, and other onshore facilities covered by the OSHA Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals, 29 CFR 1910.119.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) became operational in January 1998. The principal role of the CSB is to investigate accidents to determine the conditions and circumstances that led up to the event and prevent similar events in the future. Congress directed that the CSB’s investigative function be independent of the rulemaking, inspection, and enforcement authorities of EPA and OSHA.

The Energy Division of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) organized a Task Committee on blast-resistant designs. As a result, in 1997, it published the Design of Blast-Resistant Buildings in Petrochemical Facilities, which became the “bible” for Facility Siting and detailed the blast-resistant building design criteria within the process area.

Introduction of the Modular blast-resistant Building (BRM)

In 1999, the predecessor of Hallwood Modular delivered the first modular blast-resistant building to Exxon Mobile in Baton Rouge. Wilfred Baker Engineering (predecessor to Baker Risk) engineered the steel structure, but at this time, there were still many unknown questions. For example, would the building rollover in a blast? Also, what would happen to the occupants in the building during an explosion? Many of these questions needed required answers before the industry would ultimately buy or rent BRMs.  

2000 to 2005 – CHANGING THE PARADIGM

As with most transformational technologies, the introduction of BRMs required a process of education, evaluation, budgets, approvals, etc., before any rent or buy decision. Safety departments broadly welcomed the concept. Still, BRMs introduced new challenges to the logistics of placing the units and the workforce’s flow. Because they were more expensive, the cost of blast-rated buildings required understanding. During this time, BRMs primarily consisted of single modules and didn’t provide the workforce density wood-framed trailers provided. As a result, many tried workarounds by placing trailers outside the process area or opted to maintain the status quo and be slow adaptors.

B.P. Texas City was a slow adopter, and on March 23, 2005, 14 people died as a result. This pivotal event elevated risks associated with non-compliance and ushered in the broad acceptance of BRMs.

Over two decades later, the standards for blast-resistant buildings are commonly accepted not only within the U.S but throughout the world. Moreover, due to mechanical fastening and stackable designs, building sizes are no longer a limitation. Workforce density in BRMs now exceeds that of wood-framed trailers and is available for short-term rentals. Finally, the economics are indisputable that operating out of BRMs in the process area saves lives and saves money.

Let the professionals at Hallwood Modular show you how their “Lego” type blast building system can assist with helping you be more productive and eliminate days on projects.