Chapter 16 - Industrial Process Safety and Instrumentation

Chapter 16 - Industrial Process Safety and Instrumentation

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This chapter discusses instrumentation issues related to industrial process safety. Instrumentation safety may be broadly divided into two categories: how instruments themselves may pose a safety hazard (electrical signals possibly igniting hazardous atmospheres), and how instruments and control systems may be configured to detect unsafe process conditions and automatically shut an unsafe process down.

In either case, the intent of this chapter is to help define and teach how to mitigate hazards encountered in certain instrumented processes. I purposely use the word “mitigate” rather than “eliminate” because the complete elimination of all risk is an impossibility. Despite our best efforts and intentions, no one can absolutely eliminate all dangers from industrial processes. What we can do, though, is significantly reduce those risks to the point they begin to approach the low level of “background” risks we all face in daily life, and that is no small achievement.

An important philosophy to follow in the safe design is something called defense-in-depth. This is the principle of using multiple layers of protection, in case one or more of those layers fail. Applying defense-in-depth to process design means regarding each and every safety tool and technique as part of a multi-faceted strategy, rather than as a set of mutually-exclusive alternatives.

To give a brief example of defense-in-depth applied to overpressure protection in a fluid processing system, that system might defend against excessive fluid pressure using all of the following techniques:

  • A pressure-control system with an operator-adjusted setpoint
  • High-pressure alarms to force operator attention
  • A safety shutdown system triggered by abnormally high pressure
  • Temperature control systems (both regulatory and safety shutdown) to prevent excessive temperature from helping to create excessive fluid pressure
  • Pressure-relief valves which automatically open to vent high pressure
  • Pressure vessels built with “frangible” tops designed to burst in the safest manner possible
  • Locating the process far away from anything (or anyone) that might be harmed by an overpressure event

Any one of these techniques will work to reduce the risk posed by excessive fluid pressure in the system, but all of them used together will provide greater risk reduction than any one used alone.