Chemicals, waste and other potentially harmful materials accidentally spilled in workplaces can enter the environment through drains and watercourses and seep into the ground and contaminate the soil or groundwater.
Such spills are a major source of concern to both State Environmental Protection organisations and to national bodies such as Safe Work Australia, which has introduced its Code of Practice for Managing Risks of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace.
The code says companies must develop good handling procedures for workplaces to minimise the chance of such spills, and also have a spill management protocol in place to make sure spills are safely cleaned up. It stipulates that those conducting businesses or undertakings must manage risks associated with the use, handling, generating or storing of hazardous chemicals in a workplace, including identifying foreseeable hazards and eliminating the risk so far as practicable.
One method of stopping and sealing pipelines that is attracting increasing interest and application in Australasia for maintenance and environmental protection applications involves inflatable pipe stoppers that can be rapidly deployed, easily transported and widely applied in remote, temporary and permanent industrial situations.
"Pipelines are a major component of such a risk management strategy and, while many companies are becoming aware of the issues involved, others have yet to understand them fully," said James Maslin, National Sales Manager for Air Springs Supply.
Air Springs Supply distributes a broad range of Pronal inflatable stoppers suitable for all types of pipelines including concrete, cast iron, steel, stainless steel and PVC. Air Springs Supply has more than 30 years' specialist national experience in applying pneumatic actuation and isolation technologies.
"The issues involved in pipeline maintenance and safety are particularly acute during the maintenance season, when companies may be handling increased quantities and types of hazardous materials associated with cleaning, vehicle maintenance and plant upkeep, for example."
The common factor with maintenance, testing and emergency situations is that they need stoppers that can be rapidly and securely deployed to provide primary or secondary safety and environmental security as required by both by Safe Work Australia and State Environmental Protection Agencies.
"Sometimes such stoppers are permanently located in pipelines for instant remote inflation with compressed air or other gas where there is a risk of toxic runoff at different stages of production, or where spillages occur," Maslin said.
"In other instances they are used to seal off sections of pipe where leaks are occurring, serving the dual role of enabling pressurisation of that section so leaks can be detected, then protecting the men in the pipeline from any product flows while they work to fix the problem."
The enormously strong stoppers are produced by elastomer products specialists Pronal, the company that produced the inflatable bags used to lift sections of the liner Titanic from nearly four kilometres underwater in the Atlantic Ocean. The versatility of the material used and the production method (customised dilatability) means Pronal inflatable stoppers are suitable for all types of pipelines including concrete, cast iron, steel, stainless steel and PVC.
"They are extremely strong and durable in service, being hot vulcanised in a mould to give outstanding service life," Maslin said.
External surfaces are also customised to particular needs, such as exposure to gas or petroleum products or where long term installation is required.
"Naturally (as with any rubber-based product) direct or prolonged exposure to petroleum-based products is not recommended, but even so they have strong emergency use applications in such industries, where speed of deployment is vital."
Pronal inflatable pipe stoppers are used for maintenance, testing and emergency tasks in applications as diverse as oil and gas delivery, industrial and municipal water and waste water, and pollution prevention in mining, energy and industrial projects where sealing and testing operations need to be conducted not only with complete safety and environmental security, but also with considerable speed, to maintain flows of liquids and gases.
One of the latest stoppers employed in Australasia is a custom-fabricated OFR type, to fit a pipe with an inside diameter of 900mm. Multi-sized stoppers are also available in an expanded range spanning pipes from 45-2115mm diameter in stock sizes and up to 3000mm for customised types.
Different ranges respond to the needs of particular industries and pressure requirements, with VPE and ORJ types being used for pressures up to one bar and OPV types for pressures up to 3 bar. Higher pressure stoppers are also available.
Ongoing protection against contamination of waterways from spills into water and sewerage lines is provided by Pronal's OPAP and OFR Pollu-Plug stoppers, which are permanently and unobtrusively fitted in water and sewerage lines ready for instantaneous inflation by remote triggering as soon as an emergency arises in industrial, civil and municipal applications.
When pipelines are not subject to an emergency, the uninflated stopper allows normal non-polluted contents to pass beneath the elastomer-coated Pollu-Plug, which in its deflated condition mirrors the inside of the top of the pipeline in which it is located. It is connected by an air supply line to an all-weather control panel and nitrogen inflation cylinder supplied by the customer and located outside the pipe.
"Where water flow needs to be stopped, inflatable stoppers are an efficient solution," Maslin said.
"By creating an airtight seal within the pipe, they effectively stop the water flow to enable professionals in different industries to do their job and resolve the situation.
"They are also highly versatile in uses such as testing air, gas and water pressure, locating leaks, and even allowing the injection of chemicals or dies into a pipeline when facilitating cleaning or locating leaks in designated sections between two stoppers.
"By using the bypass function within the appropriate stopper, chemicals can be introduced then subsequently either diluted for disposal or purged to tanker or reservoir. It's very quick and clean, which is very important when seeking to eliminate risk as required by statutory authorities.
"It is also very secure. Pronal products are based on more than 40 years of producing specialist pneumatic elastomer designs for demanding applications, including government, military, heavy industrial, emergency service, sub-sea and exploration.
"The big advantages of the technology also include simplicity, portability and re-use. Maintenance staff don't need huge amounts of gear on-site and the stoppers themselves are easy to transport around plants to remote locations, where they can be used, moved on, and used again and again.
"They are an ideal method by which to achieve compliance with statutory requirements in a cost-effective and efficient manner."