Reading press stories following the publication of the Gill Report, one might believe that all lpg pipework is inherently dangerous, and underground metal pipe the work of the devil.
I am not seeking to make light of the devastating events at the ICL factory in 2004 but, considering that the pipework was never intended to be buried, was not to current standards and had been neglected throughout its life, is it any wonder it failed? The aim of an lp gas engineer is to design and fabricate a product that is fit for purpose and safe to use, a process that starts with proper design and other factors that contribute to a good job.
No tradesman wants the embarrassment of installing undersized lpg gas pipework, and this is where flow charts are invaluable. Two charts keep me right – a Fusion publication for underground PE pipe, and a chart in my vintage copy of the Calor Gas Dealer Information Booklet (May 1968 edition) for aboveground low-pressure pipework. When talking to prospective customers, they often say: “Your competitor is quoting for smaller pipe than yours”, which makes me wonder whether their under-sizing results from ignorance or cost cutting.
Reference to relevant Codes of Practice ensures that the correct specification of lpg pipe is used, although some newer pipe products not mentioned in the codes are appropriate. Tracpipe, distributed by Omegaflex, is a suitable alternative to galvanised mild steel pipe for aboveground low-pressure use. It’s made of corrugated stainless steel construction with plastic coating, is flexible and supplied in 30 or 50 metre coils.
Its advantage is in saving installation time – a 50 metre run of 28mm lpg gas pipe in a poultry shed can be completed in less than a third of the time of galvanised steel pipe. Also, joints and connections are minimised, reducing the risk of escapes.
Jointing compounds can also be an issue. There are still instances of standard grade plumbers PTFE tape being used, as well as pastes suitable only for natural gas. Education is the key.
Correct materials can be compromised by poor practice. A good example is the burying of PE pipe.
I recently responded to an emergency call where a digger had fractured an underground lp gas supply. The pipe was less than 15cm below the surface, and no warning tape had been used – no wonder the digger driver snagged it. In this respect, helpful customers can be a liability – their offer to lay and backfill runs of lpg pipe to save an installer’s time is a risk.
As an lpg gas installer, I need to see how deep the trench is before I start laying pipe, as some people’s idea of 600mm depth is amusing. A spade’s depth does not equal 600mm. Another example is the use of metal risers from underground PE pipe. We are currently inspecting installations and finding a high proportion of metal risers that have never received protective coating. This omission cannot be explained by any change in working standards, only by poor installation practice.
The Gill Report highlighted the need for regular inspection and maintenance of pipework. Up to now, customers have, at worst, viewed this maintenance as an avoidable expense, or at best been ignorant of their obligations.
I am involved in the inspection and replacement of underground metal lpg pipe, and customers regularly say: “I thought the pipework was the gas supplier’s responsibility.” Unclear understanding between the user and the lp gas supplier seems to be an ongoing issue. Going forward, greater awareness will ensure timely testing and maintenance.
We should pay close attention to the action required when faced with an installation that is classed as ‘Immediately Dangerous’ or ‘At Risk’, as summarised in pages 61-68 of The Gas Industry Unsafe Situations Procedure – 6th Edition. Immediately Dangerous situations are thankfully very rare, but At Risk installations are more common (e.g. tank too close to ignition source or drain).
Such instances call for the engineer to label the installation (i.e. lp gas tank) ‘DO NOT USE’ and to advise both the customer and lpg gas supplier, obtaining written acknowledgement from the customer that their attention has been drawn to the situation. From experience, such situations result in protracted (often heated) discussion between user and lp gas supplier, during which time the installation remains in use and at risk. Should we strive for At Risk situations to be speedily remedied?
Lpg pipework should not be a fit and forget commodity. Proper installation practice and regular inspection and testing are a small premium to pay if it prevents another ICL incident.
Contact Focus Consultants on 01434 608388 www.focusconsultants.org
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