Page 22 - Alabama 811 Magazine 2022 Issue 2
P. 22

This article is written from the perspective of an old pipeliner - me. I think I qualify because I am old (almost 75) and I have invested a great deal of my career in dealing with pipelines and other underground facilities. This article is focused on safety - physical safety and fiscal safety.
There are many statutes, rules, and regulations that apply to pipelines
and other underground utilities.
There are even lots of statutes, rules, and regulations about creating more statutes, rules, and regulations. Just to keep it simple, let’s just call everything rules. Most, but not all, rules, taken alone, make sense. Put a lot of rules together and things can get very complicated very quickly.
Most rules are enforced by some
sort of regulatory agency. Follow
the rules and you will probably be physically safe, and you will also
likely minimize the fiscal liability of fines and administrative penalties for not following the rules. If you don’t follow the rules, you might get lucky and not get hurt and not get caught
by an inspector. The problem is that, if something happens and you can’t prove you were following the rules, the fines and administrative penalties will typically be much larger and the odds of getting hurt are much greater.
Even if you religiously follow the rules, things just happen. Remember
Murphy’s law? Murphy was an optimist!!
There are two elements to getting anything done: First, you must figure out what the right thing to do actually is. Once you have identified the right thing to do, you must do it right. Doing things right does not necessarily mean gold plating, but it does mean not cutting corners to save a few dollars or a few hours. It’s a lot safer and a lot cheaper to do it right the first time.
What does this have to do with enforcement? Just this: Every inspector has a set of rules they are trying to enforce. Most inspectors
are very single minded. They have
their own set of rules they are trying
to enforce and tend to ignore other rules that may conflict with their rules. For example, years ago a gas pipeline operator back east was building a new compressor station. The local fire marshal was demanding concrete walls between each compressor and for the outside walls. Not a good thing. There are other rules that suggest that it is a lot safer to house gas compressors in well ventilated frangible buildings so that, if a gas explosion occurs, personnel in the building at least have a chance
to survive. I was younger then and I opined in a pipeline safety blog that this was akin to Barney Fife trying to stop the Indianapolis 500 because the cars did not have state inspection stickers. I
got kicked off the blog, but I am pretty sure the local fire marshal eventually realized that his particular set of rules did not apply.
If there is a rule that applies that you don’t know about, you are ignorant.
If there is a rule that applies and you ignore it, you are stupid. The rules
that are really tough to deal with are the rules you think you know - but you don’t!! Unfortunately, inspectors don’t always understand their own rules, not to mention other rules that may take precedence. You, as the one getting the job done, need to do everything you
can to educate yourself to make sure something does not slip through the cracks, and you should also be able to diplomatically educate an inspector that may not see the big picture.
Don’t forget to document the job. Even if an inspector disagrees, if you have your considerations and your decisions well documented, the likelihood of a significant penalty should be reduced. When in doubt, if you have time and
a good relationship with the relevant regulatory agencies, contact them and ask for guidance. You might
be surprised at the guidance that is available. Remember - do the right things and do things right.
Be safe out there!!
John Jacobi retired from PHMSA. For questions or comments, email:
by John Jacobi
Enforcement: Why It Works and Why It Sometimes Does Not
20 • Alabama 811 2022, Issue 2

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