Valve Safety: Education is Key

Mike Dunn, Co-owner of JS Machine & Valve, discusses valve safety and emphasizes its importance in ensuring the reliable and safe operation of valves in industrial settings. This discussion aims to minimize the risk of accidents and ensure the protection of personnel, equipment, and the environment. Dunn’s extensive background in valve repair and field service provides unique insight into common safety-related issues.

By Foster Voelker II, Director of Engineering – Williams Valves

Q: Why is valve safety so critical and what are some key areas of concern?

A: Valve safety is paramount in industrial settings, where proper handling and oper­ation of valves can prevent accidents and ensure the smooth running of processes. Valve safety is a multi-faceted aspect of industrial operations, encompassing vari­ous critical elements. Some key facets of valve safety include, but are not limited to:

  • Material and Design Selection: Choos­ing the right materials and design for valves is crucial. This depends on the specific application, the type of fluid being controlled (gas, liquid, corrosive substances, etc.), pressure and tem­perature conditions, and environmen­tal factors.
  • Proper Installation and Commissioning: Correct installation is vital for valve safe­ty. This includes ensuring that valves are compatible with the system they are being integrated into and that they are installed according to manufacturer specifications and industry standards.
  • Regular Maintenance and Inspection: Routine maintenance and inspection are key to identifying wear and tear, corrosion, or any other issues that might compromise valve safety. This includes visual inspections, function­al tests, and, in some cases, non-de­structive testing methods.
  • Understanding of Operational Condi­tions: Knowledge of the operational conditions, including pressure, tem­perature, flow rate, and chemical compatibility, is essential. Operators should be aware of the maximum and minimum operating limits of valves to prevent misuse or overloading.
  • Training and Competence of Person­nel: Workers who operate and main­tain valves should be properly trained and competent. This includes under­standing the operation of different types of valves, safety procedures, and emergency response protocols.
  • Compliance with Standards and Reg­ulations: Adhering to industry stan­dards and regulations is critical.
  • Leak Detection and Repair: Regularly checking for leaks and promptly re­pairing them is essential to maintain safety. Leaks can lead to loss of con­tainment which can be hazardous, es­pecially with flammable or toxic fluids.
  • Aging and Life Cycle Management: Understanding the life cycle of a valve and planning for its replacement or re­furbishment at the end of its service life is important to prevent failures due to aging.
  • Risk Assessment and Management: Conducting risk assessments to iden­tify potential hazards associated with valve operations and implementing ap­propriate risk management strategies.

Q: In your view, from the aspects you have identified, which do you believe are the primary contributors to the safety risks encountered in field operations?

A: It is important to highlight that a critical, yet frequently underestimated, element in guaranteeing valve safety is comprehen­sive education and training. Often, new employees, whether they are recent grad­uates or transferees from other sectors, join the workforce equipped with theoreti­cal knowledge but find themselves lacking in practical, hands-on experience neces­sary for the safe management of valve op­erations. This gap in practical training can potentially lead to hazardous situations.

Q: Could you provide insights into some real-world incidents you have seen that highlight the imperative need for comprehensive training and education in valve operations?

A: Here are several illustrative examples demonstrating the consequences of in­adequate training, along with the critical lessons learned:

Incorrect Valve Injection

In one instance, a technician, lacking in-depth knowledge of a pipeline gate valve’s design, attempted an in-line in­jection repack. “The valve injection fit­ting contained an integral check mecha­nism to hold back the product, which the technician was unaware of.” Conse­quently, the entire fitting was removed instead of just the stinger, resulting in an uncontrolled release of the product. This case accentuates the importance of thorough training in valve components and proper maintenance procedures.

Unsafe Shutdown Practices

During a refinery shutdown, a hazardous situation arose due to valves being left in a closed position. Some valve designs have the potential to trap product in the valve’s cavity when closed. An attempt was made to replace the valve packing without first ensuring the relief of pressure in the cavity, which led to an unexpected discharge of the product. This incident underlines the significance of comprehending valve positions and the potential hazards associated with altering valve states during maintenance operations.

Misuse of Equipment

Valve design can be broken down into two key categories from an operational perspective: torque-seated, which utilizes forces generated by the operator, and position-seated, which depends on the position of the obturator. In these designs, additional torque provides no benefit to the closure seal. I recall an instance where pipe wrenches were used to force a quarter-turn ball valve closed, damaging the valve, when the issue was due to improperly adjusted stops. This reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of valve operation mechanics and underscores the necessity for training in correct valve adjustment and handling techniques.

Overlooking Critical Adjustments

 In a severe incident, a non-lubricated plug valve was difficult to operate, and a lack of understanding by maintenance personnel led to the release of hazardous media. The operator, not knowing about the adjuster bolts, accidentally loosened the top cap bolts, resulting in a release. This event underscores the critical need to familiarize maintenance personnel with various types of valves and their specific maintenance protocols.

Q: If training is deemed essential, what recommendations would you have for professionals in the industry to acquire this knowledge?

A: There are several esteemed industry organizations, including Valve World, that provide comprehensive introductory training courses. Furthermore, numerous industry conferences feature white-paper presentations that encompass a broad spectrum of topics. For instance, at the recent Fugitive Emissions Summit Americas, there was a notable session that demonstrated a valve drill and tap repair on an actual valve. Engaging in such events is invaluable, as it offers an opportunity not only to enhance one’s understanding of the diverse valve products available in the market but also to establish and strengthen professional networks within the industry.

Q: Outside of a lack of personnel knowledge, what other safety related issues do you see in the field?

A: Apart from knowledge gaps, the pre-dominant challenges I observe in the field are the incorrect selection of materials and the misapplication of specific valve designs. Selecting in- appropriate materials for valves can precipitate premature failures and hazardous leaks, thereby underscoring the criticality of material compatibility with the process media. Installing a valve that is not tailored to the specific application can lead to operational inefficiencies, diminished lifespan, and increased safety risks. This situation accentuates the imperative need for meticulous valve selection based on the intended application.

Q: How would you recommend ensuring that the materials and valve designs are appropriate for their intended use?

A: While the primary responsibility for verifying that valves are fit for purpose rests with the end user, it is crucial to establish partnerships with reputable manufacturers. These relationships are invaluable for assisting in the evaluation of any uncertainties. Quality valve manufacturers typically are eager to share insights regarding the design limitations of specific valves and often offer feedback based on their experiences with various applications. Such collaborative engagements are instrumental in selecting the most suitable valves for specific purposes.

This discussion with Mike Dunn has emphasized the vital importance of valve safety in industrial settings. Key takeaways include the necessity of proper material and design selection, the importance of regular maintenance, and the critical role of comprehensive training and education in preventing accidents and ensuring smooth operations. Misapplication of valve designs and incorrect material selection are common challenges, highlighting the need for meticulous valve selection and collaboration with knowledgeable manufacturers. Ultimately, valve safety is a critical component of industrial operations, integral to protecting personnel, equipment, and the environment.

ABOUT THE EXPERT: Mike Dunn is an alumnus of Northeastern State University, receiving a Bachelor of Science in Management Information Systems. However, deviating from the most obvious professional path, Mike decided to uphold the family legacy and enter the illustrious valve repair industry. Almost two decades later, Mike is the co-owner of JS Machine and Valve Inc.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Foster Voelker II attended the University of Houston, receiving a degree in Mechanical Engineering. After graduation, Foster Voelker began his career as a valve engineer for a large commodity valve manufacturer. He is the Director of Engineering for William E. Williams Valve Corporation.
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