Saturday, November 14, 2009

Who should be Responsible for Proper Pressure Vessel Design?

I was a bit shocked by the video message I received from CSB Chairman John Bresland late Thursday afternoon. Mr. Breisland was concerned about an increasing number of fatalities and injuries in connection catastrophic failure of pressure vessels in the USA. Appearantly in the USA the responsibility with regulating the design of pressure vessels rest with the individual states. This really chocked me!

First of all, in my view the proper design of pressure vessels is a worker safety issue – and a neighbor safety issue – and should therefore be the responsibility of OSHA and EPA, i.e. national institutions. This is the way it is here in Denmark, and to the best of my knowledge in the U.K. But at least the engineering profession in the USA have got together an defined the ASME Pressure Vessel Codes. Even the Danish national guidelines for construction and production of pressure vessels refer to the ASME codes as suitable approach for design of pressure vessels. These guidelines are issued by our equivalent of OSHA. Therefore, it was a shock to me to learn that individual states are responsible for how pressure vessels are designed in the USA.

How can one expect all these states to hire the necessary expertise to be concerned about pressure vessels? Local politicians properly assume, that pressure vessels are designed properly, and for many this is likely the case. At least all those pressure vessels, which are installed and operated by companies with activities in many states.

To me the logical thing to do with respect to pressure vessels would be for the ASME Pressure Vessel Code become a standard just like ISA SP84, which applied by chemical plants and refineries across all states. But maybe there is something, which I don't understand about the distribution of powers between the federal and state levels in the USA.

1.CSB (2009): “Safety Message: Without Safeguards, Pressure Vessels Can Be Deadly”, CSB Newsroom, November 09, 2009, URL: (viewed 2009-11-13).
2.At (1996): “Konstruktion og fremstilling af trykbeholdere” (Construction and production of pressure vessels), At-anvisning nr., December 1996, URL: (viewed 2009-11-14) (At is the Danish equivalent of OSHA).