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Safe handling: @One's pipe coil initiative

When a member of the @One Alliance team suffered serious injuries while installing a section of coiled pipe, the company worked with a range of partners to develop a Water Industry Award-winning initiative that has minimised the chances of a repeat

Pipe coil initiative

The working group produced a procedure covering the safe storage and handling and PE pipe coils. It covers:

• Design and decision making; eliminating the use of coiled pipe as far as is reasonably practicable
• Correctly storing coiled PE pipe
• Loading and unloading coiled pipe on trailers; mandating the use of PSS and UIS trailers
• Controlling the coiled pipe during jointing and re-rounding; mandating the use of hydraulic pipe handling attachments

By Robin Hackett

Installing polyethylene (PE) pipe coils can be a dangerous business. The amount of stored energy in the pipes can be substantial, and carries the potential to cause serious injuries.

Anglian Water’s @One Alliance found that out the hard way. While installing a section of PE pipe into a trench, an excavator with a bucket attachment was used to keep the pipe in position so the jointing could be completed. However, the pipe slipped from underneath the bucket and struck a member of the team.

“He thought he was in a position of safety but, unfortunately, when the guys doing the installation lost control of the pipe, the stored energy meant it whipped round in a direction he wasn’t expecting and he was hit in the face,” Michael Justice, @one Alliance’s head of safety, health, environment & assurance. “He’s OK but it was quite a serious incident and it was quite a big wake-up call for us.”

The @One Alliance had been using significant quantities of large-diameter PE pipe coils but, despite a general awareness that they could pose problems, nobody appeared to have appreciated the full extent of the risk and, as such, working methods had not evolved.

“There was probably a lack of understanding about the potential amount of stored energy in those types of pipes during installation as you try to straighten them out, particularly when you’re trying to make fixed connections,” Justice adds. “You have to exert a considerable amount of force into the pipe sometimes to make the connection.”

While the injuries resulting from the incident were not life-changing, its seriousness demanded an investigation to prevent a repeat. An internal team trawled the data and found that, while there had not been anything on that scale previously, there had been two instances of people being struck by smaller diameter pipes.

The team spoke to the seven partner organisations in the @One Alliance to ask how they had gone about resolving the issue but found that, although they were aware that there was a potential danger, no one had developed a solution. They expanded their search to the gas industry in search of an answer but received the same response.

As such, they set about finding the solution themselves and, after holding workshops and receiving significant input from the workforce, they developed a multi-faceted initiative.

A central element involved working with a supplier in Manchester named UIS – Utility Innovations Solutions – on a pipe handler. UIS had already worked alongside a company in Australia to scale down a pipe pusher and use it to grip the pipe and manipulate it into position to allow the teams to make a connection, and the @One Alliance saw an opportunity to go down the same route.

“We worked with UIS and made some requests so that it would meet our standards,” Justice says. “The first prototype we saw didn’t have check valves on so if the machine stopped it didn’t necessarily hold in place. They made some modifications and we ran a number of trials with our frontline teams.”

After three trials, UIS had developed a suitable solution, and the use of the adapted pipe handler has now become mandatory.

In addition, concerns were raised about the risk posed by the back end of pipes coming off the pipe coil trailers.

“The frontline team recognised that the trailers we used weren’t brilliant and there was an issue around restraining the coiled pipe as it’s dispensed from the trailer,” he adds.

An additional trial was held to review the trailers, which included identifying the risks associated with loading on as well as the removal process. UIS and PSS Hire, which supplies the trailers, then agreed to work together to re-design the trailer so that the stored energy in the coiled pipe could be safely restrained as the end of the pipe is released.

A further measure requires project designers to explore whether PE pipe is necessary in the first place.

“Where we do use coiled pipe, we have a standing methodology to use a combination of the pipe coil trailer and the pipe handler to mechanically manipulate any connections and pipework we need to do,” he says. “Because that process is slightly more in-depth than the traditional approach, we do think about alternative products and pipe types. Sometimes coiled pipe is the right thing to use, but at other times it was just the default.”

There have been no further incidents since the methodology was developed, and the learning has been shared not just among Anglian Water and its partners but across the industry more widely.

“When we started the investigation into the incident, there was a lot of anecdotal knowledge that these larger diameter coil pipes were difficult to work with and the stored energy was an issue but nobody had really taken a step back and innovated,” Justice says.

“What was really good about the whole process we went through is that we took the opportunity to learn and change the way we work and really embraced the whole team. The frontline teams really understood the problem and a lot of them had ideas about how to work more safely. I think that before we’d just lost the need to listen to the frontline teams somewhere in the process.

“It was only by bringing everyone’s skill, knowledge and experience together that we were able to come up with an answer. I think if we tried to do it in isolation or as a safely-led initiative or even a construction initiative, we’d have missed something.”

Anglian Water’s @One Alliance won the Health & Safety Initiative of the Year prize at the 2019 Water Industry Awards for its work on pipe coils

This article originally appeared in the October issue of WWT

Topic: Pipes & Pipelines
Tags: Anglian Water , Pipes , health

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