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Failing a Pressure Component

One of the recurring questions that has been raised on our IOSH accredited Pressure Systems Safety Course is “What happens if, as a PSSR Examiner, I fail a component but the user continues to use it?”.

To answer this, we have to go back to basics and remember why we are conducting an examination in the first place.  The aim of PSSR is to prevent serious injury from the hazard of stored energy, as a result of the failure of a pressure system or one of its component parts.  The PSSR Examiner is there to examine and report on all parts of the system covered by the written scheme of examination.  They should be satisfied that, as a result of the examination, the condition of the parts included in the written scheme and their fitness for continued use has been properly assessed.

The Approved Code of Practice offers this:

“129 The competent person may decide that the risk of danger may be significantly increased if the next examination is delayed until a date set in accordance with the current written scheme. In these circumstances, the written scheme should be reviewed and an earlier date set beyond which the system should not be operated without a further examination.”

This infers that the examiner finds the Pressure System in an acceptable, or better, condition.  If there are concerns then the Competent Person needs to increase the frequency of examination but, this paragraph accounts for deterioration of a component and not its failure.

Regulation 10 describes action in case of imminent danger, which applies only to serious defects requiring immediate attention.  That is, where there is a risk of imminent failure of the system if immediate repairs are not undertaken or other suitable modifications are not made to the operating conditions.  Only when there is imminent danger is the Competent Person required to notify the relevant enforcing authority. ‘Imminent Danger’ is not defined within PSSR however the competent person should notify the user/owner immediately so that appropriate action can be taken to prevent danger.

So, what if there is no imminent danger – but there is a defect?  The obvious question is “What constitutes a defect that does not present imminent danger?” The Regulations are concerned with reasonably foreseeable danger to people from the unintentional release of stored energy.  A pressure gauge that is reading incorrectly may not create that reasonably foreseeable danger in isolation, however may be a contributing factor in the events leading up to a failure.  Reporting this occurrence to the HSE under Regulation 10 may not be considered a proportionate response, but the examiner prepares a report based on the actual condition of the system as found during the examination.

At the end of the examination, the Examiner should be satisfied that the protective devices, especially any safety valves, have been tested and set correctly. Where protective devices which have been removed during an examination are found to be defective, the cause of the problem should be investigated further by the user/owner and the necessary corrective measures taken.

It’s worth reminding ourselves of the duties and the duty holders under PSSR; Once a pressure system is installed, the primary duty for compliance rests with the user – and this is a corporate responsibility – a firm or organisation in control of the operation of the system and therefore in the best position to comply with the Regulations.

It is the responsibility of the user/owner to select a competent person capable of carrying out the duties in a proper manner with sufficient expertise in the particular type of system. The Competent Person can do the following:

  • drawing up or certifying schemes of examination;
  • carrying out examinations under the scheme (The competent person is responsible for all examinations).

In addition, the user/owner may seek advice from a competent person on other matters relating to these Regulations.

In pure terms, the user/owner of a pressure system employs a Competent Person (be it to certify a WSE or examine the system) to help them comply with PSSR.  The decision to comply rests with the user/owner, therefore it is up to them to decide whether to act upon the advice given to them by the Competent Person.  Even when there is imminent danger, the requirement of the competent person is to immediately produce a written report identifying the system and specifying the repairs, modifications or changes required and give it to the user/owner.