In industrial engineering and occupational safety, pressure vessels play a key role. These devices, containers designed to hold fluids (gases or liquids) at a pressure significantly different from atmospheric pressure, are found in many sectors, from energy to chemicals, food to pharmaceuticals.

However, given their nature, it is essential to understand how they work and how to ensure their proper functioning to avoid potentially dangerous accidents. In this article, we will explore what pressure vessels are, the various types available, applicable regulations and standards, how they are inspected and maintained, and how to prevent related accidents.

Definition of pressure vessels

A pressure vessel is a container designed to contain gases or liquids at a pressure substantially different from atmospheric pressure. The pressure may be positive (higher than atmospheric pressure), or in some cases, negative, or ‘vacuum’. These vessels are designed and constructed to withstand the pressures and temperatures to which they are subjected during normal operation, as well as the expected overpressure and overtemperature conditions.

Types of pressure vessels

There are various types of pressure vessels used in different industries. For example, spherical and cylindrical vessels are common in the oil and chemical industry for storing gases and liquids. Chemical reactors, another type of pressure vessel, are used in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries for chemical reactions. Steam boilers, a special kind of pressure vessel, are used to generate steam for heating or power generation.

Applicable regulations and standards

Given the potential risk associated with pressure vessel use, several regulations and standards are designed to ensure their safety. In Italy, the law requires that pressure vessels undergo regular inspections by accredited bodies. INAIL, for example, provides detailed guidelines on how pressure vessels should be inspected and maintained. At the international level, standards such as the ASME BPVC (American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code) provide standards for the design, manufacture and inspection of pressure vessels.

Inspection and maintenance procedures

Maintenance of pressure vessels may include various activities, depending on the specific needs of the equipment. For example, preventive maintenance may consist of regular cleaning, lubrication of particular components, corrosion control and replacement of worn parts. These tasks aim to keep the pressure vessel in optimal operating condition and avoid breakdowns.

Conversely, corrective maintenance is performed when a defect has been identified during an inspection or check-up. It may be necessary to repair or replace damaged parts or adjust the system to ensure the pressure vessel functions as intended.

It is important to note that all maintenance work must be performed by qualified personnel with the necessary training and experience.

Prevention of accidents

Given the potentially dangerous nature of pressure vessels, accident prevention is a top priority. This requires a multi-layered approach, including safe design and construction, proper operating procedures, regular inspection and maintenance, staff training and a safety culture within the organisation.

The first step in preventing accidents is ensuring the pressure vessel is designed and constructed according to applicable regulations and standards. It must be suitable for its intended use and able to withstand the pressures and temperatures to which it will be subjected.

Operating procedures must be established to ensure that the pressure vessel is used safely. This may include procedures for start-up and shutdown, operation during normal and emergency conditions, and response to alarms or malfunctions.

Staff training is another crucial aspect of accident prevention. All those working with or around pressure vessels must be adequately trained in operating procedures, associated risks and safety measures.

Finally, promoting a safety culture within the organisation can help ensure everyone understands the importance of pressure vessel safety and is committed to maintaining high standards.

Ultimately, pressure vessels play a vital role in many industries and present potential risks. However, with proper understanding of the equipment, strict attention to applicable regulations and standards, regular inspection and maintenance, staff training and promoting a safety culture, it is possible to manage these risks and effectively ensure safe and reliable operation.

The value offered by Inspecteam Srl

Inspecteam Srl is a company that offers high-level consultancy and training services in quality, safety and the environment. Our mission is to guide organizations in improving their processes, adhering to regulations and achieving compliance by facilitating the implementation of quality management systems such as ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and ISO 45001, among other relevant standards.

Our services are structured as follows:

  • Consulting: we provide expertise and experience to support organizations in implementing and managing quality, safety and environmental systems. Our role can range from supporting the preparation for ISO certification, implementing entire quality management systems, and training staff on specific requirements and industry best practices.
  • Training: Inspecteam Srl offers various training courses to help organizations fully understand and adhere to current regulations and standards. Our courses cover a wide range of topics, including quality management, health and safety at work, the environment and many others.
  • Audits: we conduct internal audits to ensure compliance with applicable standards and regulations, identify areas for improvement and prepare organizations for external audits.

Inspecteam Srl is dedicated to supporting organizations in achieving and maintaining high quality, safety and environmental protection standards. Our expertise and dedication are at your service to build a better future.