Taken together, the American Petroleum Institute’s Recommended Practices (RP) 1162 and RP 1173 address the need for effective industrywide protocols for keeping the public safe around natural gas infrastructure. They provide baseline guidance to pipeline operators for developing and implementing public awareness programs, and steer pipeline operators toward more proactive prevention of fatalities, property, and infrastructure damage.
To date, no similar guidance standards exist for power line safety public outreach. However, research shows that customers served by dual-commodity pipeline operators and electrical utilities expect safety education about both. Moreover, the public depends on utilities—whether electric or natural gas, to keep them safe—with or without regulatory mandates.
Compliance does not necessarily equate to effectiveness
The RPs specify minimum effectiveness standards, and leave the details to the individual pipeline operators. In actuality, an organization can check all the appropriate boxes and flawlessly execute, without producing the desired results.
For example, RP 1162 requires pipeline operators to direct excavators to sources of additional information about pipelines; RP 1173 does not. So, an operator, faithfully adhering to the baseline recommendations, might forego the opportunity to provide additional safety content that can close critical knowledge gaps and ultimately save lives.
In short, the guidelines are a necessary first step, but they’re not enough to adequately protect the public. Organizations that are truly committed to public safety know that their efforts have to go a step further to be truly effective.
Building the scaffolding to move beyond compliance
Forward-thinking utilities focus on the desired goals: eliminating fatalities, injuries, and property and infrastructure damage. This is not to say they can ignore RP requirements—quite the contrary. Because of their efforts to go above and beyond the standards, they typically enjoy exemplary regulatory and insurance audits, and can prove their efforts with robust documentation.
These organizations move beyond RP specifications to empower internal and external stakeholders, enabling them to protect themselves and other community members from harm caused by contact with energy infrastructure. They may vary considerably in terms of where they fall along the continuum of moving beyond compliance, but all share a common commitment to public safety and to reaching their next performance level.
Developing and sustaining effective public safety programs start from the inside out. This requires pipeline operators and utilities to conduct detailed planning, gain commitment from all organizational levels, provide adequate resources, and support consistent monitoring and improvement. It also requires company employees to exercise sound judgement, knowing that leadership will back their decisions to prioritize public safety over other organizational objectives.
Examples of “beyond compliance” actions include: proactive audits, enhanced research, supplemental and highly targeted communications, and channel development. This differs considerably from approaches used by many letter-of-the-law operators, which often emphasize conducting investigations and remedies focused on lagging indicators—not unlike expecting to arrive at the desired destination by watching the rear-view mirror!
It’s not just about checking the boxes
While the underlying causes of infrastructure damage may vary, stakeholder knowledge about how to detect and respond to gas and electrical emergencies is key to preventing an incident from turning into a catastrophe. Avoiding incidents in the first place is even better; energy providers who embrace a safety culture allow employees to feel empowered to put the brakes on situations they deem potentially dangerous.
With or without industry regulation, pipeline operators and utilities recognize that they have a responsibility to educate the public about living and working safely around energy infrastructure. Community safety—and good business—depends on it.