Thinking As an Enforcer

(December 29, 2017) — Where are the bodies?” “Where is the fire?” These questions are a not-uncommon response to some proposals or docket requests I make at various committee meetings where I participate. Maybe I’m suggesting that an isolated incident should cause us to rethink a code requirement, or it could be that I see a trend developing and it needs to be dealt with before unacceptable consequences are experienced.
Safety First

I attend these committee meetings representing enforcement activities in my state. Sometimes I’m unofficially representing a larger enforcement community. There is an informal communication web among enforcers from around the country, with someone from nearly half of the states on the email list. We raise subjects of concern within this group to see how other states deal with it, or what they know about it. We have some great email conversations, and sometimes we share how we chose to enforce an existing requirement.

I have heard it said that every requirement in all codes is there because something happened to raise that concernthe industry, insurance folk, or enforcers addressed that concern (incident) by creating a requirement in a code. Sometimes they created a new code. While that may be true in many instances, it is a very pessimistic attitude. Maybe being proactive is the better choice. Or, as my preacher said one time, “It’s better to be saved from sin than to be saved out of sin.”

The new-in-2017 Chapter 12 in theLP-Gas Code is a forward-looking section with requirements for adapting an on-road motor vehicle to use propane as its fuel. The chapter has many requirements aimed at preventing the propane fuel system from becoming the cause of an incident. On-road use of propane is not all that new, but widespread use is. There is hope in the industry that autogas, as some call it, will increase gallons sold. Following the rules in the new Chapter 12 should save people from being in an incident.

I shared in BPN in June 2016 that we are encouraging a “culture of safety.” (It is interesting that this phrase is becoming quite common. I don’t claim it, but I think it shows a very positive attitude about safety.) We saw a trend in incidents of fires, sometimes with injuries, when cylinders were filled and some important rules were not followed. The structural failure of a 100-lb cylinder caused a deadly fire on a mobile food unit in Philadelphia and vividly brought the danger of propane to the public’s attention. That is not the attention the industry wants from the public.

If we could foresee the need to address situations and formulate safety requirements before they materialized and keep people from being injured or killed, isn’t that the best service a safety planner could provide? I titled this article with the expectation that most marketers would wonder why they would want to think of themselves as an enforcer. My answer is that doing so will help them install and maintain their equipment so an enforcer doesn’t find fault with it. The earlier article pointed out that an installer of a propane system must follow all the requirements in the applicable codes. Doing that is the best assurance that the site will pass inspection and will not cause injury.

Along that line of thinking, sort of, is another attitude enforcers must promote. If we see a violation of a requirement, then we must point out that it needs to be corrected. I said in the June 2016 article that an inspector will not always inspect a site for compliance with every code requirement. For instance, they won’t open a system to verify that a hidden component is present. But, they must not ignore a violation they see. We have inspectors who can’t refrain from writing up violations they see even when they are not on the clock.

Similarly, there are some requirements in the LP-Gas Code that do not get wide acceptance. One is the requirement to not enclose the area around or over a tank unless “specifically allowed,” as justified by a fire protection analysis (FPA). See Section 6.5.4. Granted, this analysis is not well defined in the code or supporting material, but it is required. We have been requiring it for a few years. We had to define it better, which you can see on our website at www.ncagr.gov/standard/LP/LPgas Concerns/FireProtectionAnalysis.htm. I don’t know of any other place where the FPA is described. We couldn’t ignore some of the enclosures we saw that represented dangerous situations. Inspectors raised this question to me and we decided that we could enforce it only if we explained what we would accept.

Another requirement often ignored is the one in Section 7.2.2.2 that requires written notification to the container owner when the container they want to have filled does not comply with Sections 5.2, Containers, or 5.9, Container Appurtenances. How often have you heard of a customer taking their cylinder elsewhere when told that the cylinder couldn’t be filled? If a written notice was given to them describing the shortcoming(s) and the safety reasons for not filling it, then maybe they would take it more seriously. We know of some companies that have a form letter where they can check the reason(s) the cylinder does not comply and give it to the customer. Sadly, I can point to fires and bodies resulting from cylinders that should have had written notice of noncompliance.

“Oh, but that is an isolated incident.” This is another statement I hear. Is it worth the time and effort to create a requirement that will apply only in isolated situations? 
I received a request recently to approve a bulk tank installation that would allow an aboveground 30,000-gal. tank and an underground 30,000-gal. tank to be filled from a common liquid line on a bulkhead. I knew that there was a long-standing requirement that ASME containers with liquid interconnections must have their maximum fill level at the same height (6.8.3.2). But, that requirement is in the Installation of Horizontal Aboveground ASME Containers section. Technically, I couldn’t apply it to the situation of an aboveground tank interconnected with an underground tank. I denied the site, based on what I knew to be the code’s intent and on sound engineering judgment. Thankfully, the 58 committee heard and tentatively accepted my request to move the requirement so it will apply to all ASME containers. This is an isolated situation, the only one I know of. It could have resulted in a notorious isolated situation.

Richard Fredenburg is an LP-gas Engineer with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.