The Inquiry into the Piper Alpha disaster chaired by Lord Cullen, highlighted the short-comings of a prescriptive approach to safety and in particular, those of fire protection.

This paper describes a method of critically analysing the process sections and areas to determine the worst fire conditions which could occur following a hydrocarbon release. The results of the analyses would be used as the basis for fire protection design on a new platform or for assessing the adequacy of the protection on an existing installation thus allowing designers to adopt the "goal setting" approach advocated in the Inquiry, ie. designing systems to suit the fire hazards rather than to suit the regulations. It will also enable process engineers to appreciate the scale of fire hazards which might arise from poor design.

The method is developed along the following lines:

  • Assumptions are made about damage to plant, emergency shutdown valves and possible loss of depressurisation.

  • The potential fires are examined as a function of inventories.

  • The size of largest fire and duration of smallest significant fire are determined.

  • Locations, release rates and fire types are identified.

  • Fire characteristics from external burning are also reviewed.

Examples of potential applications of the analysis are demonstrated.

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