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U.S. Department
of Transportation

Pipeline Safety Stakeholder Communications

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Fact Sheet: Incorrect Operation

Quick Facts:

  • Although much of pipeline operations can now be automated, humans continue to serve a primary role in many activities touching nearly all aspects of pipeline operations.
  • As a result, human factors can become critical elements in certain types of pipeline and equipment failures.
  • Incorrect actions by company or contractor personnel (sometimes referred to as “Operating Error” or “Incorrect Operation”) can be either a direct or indirect cause of a pipeline failure, resulting in releases of liquid or gas.
  • Examples of operating errors that may lead to a release include inadvertent actions like leaving a wrong valve open, overfilling a tank, overpressuring a piece of equipment, or mismarking an underground pipeline prior to excavation work. Other examples include not following proper procedures, using improper equipment or techniques to affect a repair, or improperly assessing a situation or condition resulting in inappropriate actions or decisions.
  • Operating Errors cause a relatively small percentage of overall pipeline failures, and result in a relatively small percentage of the total volume released.
  • New operator qualification regulations, as well as qualification requirements within the integrity management regulations, have both promoted the development and implementation of additional requirements that enhance worker knowledge and expertise.

What is Incorrect Operation and why does it occur?

  • Because many aspects of pipeline operations are reliant on worker actions to accomplish day-to-day activities, situations sometimes arise that present the possibility of human error, occasionally resulting in a pipeline release.
  • Examples of Incorrect Operation include mistakes that may occur when directing the flow of fluid, draining or filling a vessel or tank, performing routine maintenance, or reacting to a condition on the pipeline.

What are the risks from Incorrect Operation?

  • Incorrect Operation is not one of the more prevalent causes of pipeline failures.
  • And, even when not the direct cause of a failure, Incorrect Operation may exacerbate a spill that is initially caused by other reasons; however, this rarely occurs as well.
  • The thoroughness and quality of an operator’s training and qualification program - as well as the quality of its operating procedures - are important factors in preventing Incorrect Operation.

What is being done to prevent/mitigate Operating Errors?

  • To reduce the threat from these and other similar types of failures involving human factors, OPS has issued regulations that require operators to develop qualification programs for both liquid and gas transmission pipelines focused on individuals performing certain safety-sensitive functions.
  • Improved worker training and qualification programs should result in a decrease in these types of failures.

Incorrect Operation: What more can be done?

  • Public : Be aware of pipelines located near you. Be observant for signs of pipeline damage, leakage, or signs of vandalism, tampering, or other security concerns. Also, be observant to changes in the immediate vicinity of the pipeline such as river washouts, flooding, or other ground movement or settling that could impact a buried pipeline. Report any concerns you have regarding pipeline safety to the pipeline operator immediately. Always respect the pipeline right-of-way, and do not dig or build on a pipeline right-of-way without first contacting the pipeline operator or your state one-call center.
  • Industry : Pipeline operators and industry stakeholders can continue to develop and implement improved strategies for increasing the quality and expertise of its personnel, including those personnel involved in the implementation of their integrity management programs.
  • Regulators : OPS and state regulators must continue to inspect pipeline operators to ensure they effectively implement their training and qualification programs, ensuring that personnel performing safety-sensitive functions are properly trained and qualified with the appropriate level of expertise and experience.

Incorrect Operation: Where can I learn more?

Date of Revision: 07292014