When someone is talking about pipe markings the conversation typically is focused on why they are important for regulatory compliance or for convenience or even to improve general safety. When it comes right down to it, however, pipe markings are important because they save lives. This isn’t an exaggeration or sales pitch, it is the reality in many situations. To illustrate that point, let’s look at a few examples of how proper pipe marking can help to save lives.
When there is an emergency such as a fire, gas leak or even a flood, every second matters. When the fire department or other emergency response teams arrive at a facility, they won’t have time to look over blueprints to see which pipes are carrying what. Consider some of the following situations related to emergency responses:
Hooking Up a Fire Hose – Larger facilities often have places where hoses can be hooked up for one thing or another. If a fire fighter decides to use one of these to help battle a fire, they need to know what is going to come out of the hose. If they think it is water but it is actually a flammable liquid, it could be deadly. Proper pipe markings can prevent this from happening.
Fire Suppression Options – Sometimes water is ideal for putting out a fire, but not always. When working around grease or oil, you want to use fire suppression foams. Even around important electronics it is better to use non-water options when possible. Having all the pipes marked clearly will let emergency response teams select the right option without wasting a second.
Identifying Hazards – Even if the emergency responders don’t need to access anything within the pipes, they still need to be able to identify what is in them for safety reasons. If there is a fire, for example, the fire fighters need to be able to find which pipes contain flammable contents and shut them off. Pipes that contain water, however, they don’t need to spend time disengaging.
General Daily Situations
Of course, emergencies are quite rare in most facilities. They are not, however, the only times when pipe markings can save lives. High quality pipe markings will dramatically improve the overall safety of the facility, which will mean less accidents and injuries, including fatal injuries. There are a nearly endless number of specific scenarios where these markings can help to avoid potentially fatal accidents. The following are some general situations:
Multiple Pipe Options – In many facilities there are areas where many pipes come out so people can either turn on a faucet or hook up a hose. The pipes can contain any number of things ranging from safe drinking water to toxic chemicals. While there will likely be signs placed over each hookup area, those could get damaged or removed. Having the pipe markings on the pipes themselves will provide a clear indication of what is inside so employees don’t accidently choose the wrong one.
Safety Instructions – Pipe markings aren’t just used to identify what is inside a pipe. They can also be used to provide instructions regarding what safety steps should be taken when using the contents. Having a marking that says people must use a hazmat suit, for example, will help ensure nobody accidently accesses a pipe without proper protection.
Temperature Indications – Many pipes in facilities will carry very hot things such as steam or hot water. If the pipe is not clearly marked with the temperature information, someone could turn it on and get severe burns. These burns could be fatal, but even if they aren’t they could cause severe injuries.
Potable Water – Many pipes contain water, but not all of it is the same. Some is used for drinking, other for cooling and still others for other things. If someone accidently drinks unsafe water it could make them very ill or even die. Pipe markings can make it very clear whether or not the water within is potable.
In addition to all of the above situations where pipe markings can help to improve safety and reduce the risk of fatalities, they can also help keep people safe when performing maintenance on the pipes. If it is necessary to cut out a piece of pipe to replace it, for example, it is important for the employee to know what was in the pipe. Even after it is drained it may still contain a small amount of liquid which, if flammable, could ignite when the pipe is cut.
Even when simply cleaning pipes it is important to know what is contained within them. If the pipe is transporting steam or other high temperature items, the pipe itself could be very hot. This could expose the maintenance personnel to sever burns quite quickly. While that is not deadly in itself, the burn could cause the employee to pull back and fall off of a ladder or other item.
It is quite easy to see how maintenance tasks are made much safer when the pipes are properly labeled. While pipe markings may seem like a very simple item, they are absolutely essential for the safe day to day operation of any facility.
Preparing for Proper Pipe Markings
To help keep your facility and your employees as safe as possible it is important to make sure you are labeling your pipes properly. If you don’t currently have any markings on your pipes it is good to start out by planning out what types of labels will go where.
The first thing to do is to get a blueprint of where all the pipes in the facility are located, and what they contain. It is absolutely essential to make sure you know what is transported in each pipe or the labeling could be done incorrectly, which would actually increase the risk.
Once you have everything planned out, it is time to get the labels. You’ll have to options. First, if you have or can acquire an industrial label printer (similar to the LabelTac4 PRO) you will be able to print off custom pipe markings to meet your exact needs. When possible, this is the ideal option. If you can’t get a printer for this, you can also order custom labels from a third party print shop. While this will be effective, the cost per label will be considerably higher.
Placing the Pipe Markings
Once you have the pipe markings ready to go, you will need to make sure you put the labels on the pipes properly. The following simple steps will help ensure the pipe markings are effective and will last a long time in your facility.
Cleaning the Pipes – Unless you’re marking brand new pipes, you will want to make sure they are cleaned to remove any dust, grease or other items that could cause the markings to peel off. Clean the pipes using normal cleaning supplies and then make sure they are dry before applying the markings.
Temperature Control – When possible it is best to apply labels to pipes when they are at room temperature. While there are special labels that can be used on very hot or cold pipes, applying them should be done at a normal temperature unless that is not an option.
Proper Placement – Pipe markings should be done at regular intervals so people can always see a label no matter where they are standing. Placing labels on both sides of turns or splits in the pipe, as well as when the pipe goes through a wall is also essential. Make sure the labels are visible from all sides of the pipe as well. This often requires putting two or more labels on one part of the pipe.
Even Application – To the extent possible you want to make sure your pipe markings are applied smoothly and evenly. This will allow the adhesive to bond with the pipe more completely so that the label won’t detach. Once the label is in place, apply firm pressure to the label.
Maintaining Pipe Labels
Once the pipe markings are in place in your facility you just need to make sure they are properly maintained. This is quite simple in most cases. Scheduling cleanings on a regular basis will allow you to ensure they are always easy to see and read. Pipe labels can be cleaned using normal cleaning products, which makes it even simpler. When the maintenance team is cleaning the pipes they can also watch out for scratches, peeling or other damage to the label. Should it exist, new labels can be quickly printed to replace the damaged ones.
Quality Pipe Markings can Save Lives
While pipe markings are known to be a safety product, most people don’t really think of them as being able to save lives. As you can see from the above examples, however, they are an essential requirement for any facility. One of the best things about pipe markings is that they are inexpensive, easy to install and simple to maintain. This makes them one of the best ways to help maintain safety and protect employees in any facility.