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As the petrochemical industry returns to a regular maintenance cycle after the cutbacks of 2009 and 2010, turnaround planning is ramping up nationwide. Now that the use of office trailers is declining in blast zones, demand for blast-resistant buildings (BRBs) is headed for an all-time high. At RedGuard, we’ve been aggressively increasing our inventory of lease unit BRBs in anticipation of this upswing. Still, nationwide demand is expected to exceed supply, so this should be one of the first calls made by turnaround planners, if they hope to maximize all the benefits of work site blast protection.
This article was originally published in 2012. It has been updated to reflect current findings consistent with today's blast-resistant buildings and the petrochemical industry. Upsizing and downsizing are part of life in a petrochemical refinery. That could mean capital expansions that reposition limited staff and resources, or turnarounds that change the face of an entire operation. It’s crucial to work through these changes with minimum interruption to business flow. That means the importance of supplier selection is a top priority. Safety is a bigger concern than ever, and it’s important to choose trustworthy partners during these precarious times. Your choice of suppliers for temporary, blast-resistant buildings is an important one. So, what factors should be considered when choosing a supplier? Let's consider.
Everyone talks about safety, as we should in the petrochemical industry, but there are some gray areas in blast zone safety ratings. So, it’s equally important to talk about reliability. Yes, a building can be rated for a certain zone, but if it’s rated “high response” (which means “high damage”) in that zone, there will almost certainly be casualties if people are in the unit during a blast event.
There was a time when the science of blast protection was poorly understood. We built petrochemical control centers out of reinforced concrete or masonry blocks because it was the best-known construction method, but it was never a good solution to the challenge of protecting the people inside. Now we have a new option, and the industry has aggressively adopted it.
There are no college degrees in blast engineering. This specialty can only be learned in the “real world,” and even there, only a small handful of people have the experience to be considered experts. When RedGuard decided to start making blast-resistant buildings in 2005, we talked to everyone who knew anything about the subject, and one name quickly rose to the top of the list: Ali Sari, Ph.D., PE.
The petrochemical industry is rapidly responding to the fact that too many blast zones contain buildings that can’t withstand a blast. While some companies are still trying to tackle the problem with traditional construction methods, there is a widespread movement toward the use of modular, metal buildings because of their proven ability to protect personnel.
Blast-resistant building design is a relatively unexplored frontier. For one thing, very little research has been done on the actual effects of blasts on various types of structures. Then there are aesthetic and psychological considerations. In addition to making a building safe, it’s important to create interior spaces that are functional and provide appropriate levels of comfort for personnel.
In 2005, my team was called in to investigate the Texas City, Texas, refinery disaster. I’ll never forget what I saw there — where wood-frame office trailers had stood, only splinters remained. Fifteen people died because they were housed in those trailers. All I could think was there has to be a better way.