Instrumentation safety may be broadly divided into two categories: how instruments themselves may pose a safety hazard, and how instruments and control systems may be configured to detect unsafe conditions and automatically shut an unsafe process down. Despite our best efforts, no one can absolutely eliminate all hazards from industrial processes, but we can significantly reduce those risks.
An important philosophy to follow is something called Defense-in-Depth (DiD). This is a common principle used in the cybersecurity industry, but has very practical applications regarding the safe use of your industrial equipment. DiD uses multiple layers of protection, in case one or more of those layers fail. Applying DiD to process design means regarding each and every safety tool and technique as part of a multi-faceted strategy, rather than viewing them as separate processes.
To give a brief example, let’s look at how DiD is 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
Safety must always take priority when using any sort of industrial equipment or part. No matter if it’s human or machine error, it is extremely important to ensure that processes are implemented to reduce the potential hazards that can occur.
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