The price of safety

If you’ve followed one of the biggest stories in Houston’s energy community of the past two years the signs on a couple of OTC booths may have caught your eye:
At U.K.-based Pyroban: “Addressing vehicle ignition sources.”
And Baytown-based Industrial Trailer Co.: “Ask about blast resistant trailers.”
Pyroban is promoting the Gascheka system, a device that can be added to any vehicle to help keep it from accidentally igniting any flammable vapors it may encounter on the grounds of an oil refinery or other setting with the potential for volatile fumes. Industrial Trailer is customizing standard work trailers to be able to handle blasts with forces of up to 400 pounds per square inch.
What’s the local hook? It’s believed the fatal accident at BP’s Texas City refinery in March 2005 occurred when a vapor cloud (which never should have formed) was ignited by a vehicle that was running. The dead and many of the injured where working in nearby trailers that were flattened in the blast.
Ian Ratcliff, managing director at Pyroban, said the Gascheka system is essentially a vapor detector that warns a vehicle driver of dangerous gases and can lock-out the ignition if the gas level reaches critical levels. It was developed early this decade in response to a request by British Airways, which had equipment like forklifts operating in airplane hangars that, at times, came close to flammable vapors. The company wanted to lower the risk of an accident without taking the drastic measure of classifying the entire hangar as off-limits to such equipment.
Pyroban just got the approval to begin marketing the system in the U.S. a few weeks ago, Ratcliff said. Visitors to the booth this week have been interested in the system, which takes about three hours to install on a vehicle and costs about 4,000 pounds (just under $8,000) for one unit but less for multiple systems.
“It’s the kind of system you need risk managers at a company to be aware of,” Ratcliff said. “It’s for situations where there’s a low explosion risk but a high potential for loss.”
Jim Nicholas of Industrial Trailer said his firm has been customizing trailers for everything from motocross enthusiasts and barbecue competition fanatics to refineries. Just last fall some energy companies started asking the firm if it could outfit trailers to provide a higher level of safety than the metal shipping containers many now use.
Industrial has teamed up with an unnamed Dallas-area defense contractor, which has developed a blast-resistant material that the companies have started to install inside trailers. For north of $100,000 a 24-by-8 trailer can be outfitted as an air-conditioned office that can take up to 14 psi of force.
“This was something the industry started asking us to develop just recently,” Nicholas said.