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published on

August 2023

When potentially devastating events like vapor cloud explosions and dust explosions are an inherent daily risk for facilities with flammable and combustible materials, effective pre-incident planning and strategic design principles aren’t an option; they’re a necessity. For these facilities, incorporating blast resistant buildings into the infrastructure is a commitment to safety and resilience. From combustible dust to vapor cloud explosions, understanding and mitigating these threats are the key to safety, so in this blog, we will discuss how to do just that and help you “design for disaster” with an emphasis on permanent blast resistant building structures. With detailed pre-incident planning, adherence to emergency preparedness standards, and close partnerships with experts like the ones here at BakerRisk, you can more effectively prevent disasters and create a safer workplace.

Understanding Blast Resistant Buildings

To begin, let’s start by understanding what blast resistant buildings are. “Blast resistant buildings” (BRBs), sometimes called “blast-resistant structures,” are robust, adaptable buildings specifically designed to withstand many of the blast hazards present in an industrial environment. These protective structures are a standard feature in high-risk facilities and workplaces like oil refineries and chemical processing plants because they serve as a formidable line of protection and can act as the difference maker between life and death in some circumstances.

BRBs are often constructed from structural steel or reinforced concrete, with thick walls and doors that act as a shield to protect personnel and property from high levels of blast pressure, fragment impacts, and other hazards like fire and toxic gases. These buildings work by leveraging protective materials and top-notch design principles to effectively absorb and deflect explosive energy and protect against other potential hazards. The benefits of BRBs are significant. By minimizing injury and damage, they drastically reduce downtime and recovery costs in the aftermath of a blast event, ensuring business continuity and better outcomes for every related factor.

Unfortunately, there are no federal laws regulating what measures a facility needs to take to design protective buildings. However, industry leading organizations such as the American Petroleum Institute (API) have established “recommended practices,” or RPs, that serve as guidelines on, among other topics, how to site occupied buildings from process hazards. BRBs should be designed based on recommendations laid out by API RP-752 and RP-753, both of which provide guidance on managing the risk from explosions, fire, and toxic material releases to on-site personnel located in new and existing buildings intended for occupancy — the difference between these two practices being: API RP-752 is associated with permanent structures, while API RP-753 focuses on portable buildings.

Multi-hazard resistant building

The Emergency Preparedness in Blast Resistant Building Design and Types of Blast-Resistant Structures

Pre-incident planning is the cornerstone of effective disaster prevention. By anticipating potential threats and considering diverse consequences, architects and engineers can optimize building designs to withstand various hazards by employing enhanced reinforcement techniques that mitigate damage and risk in day-to-day operations. Notably, this is core to the principles of design regarding blast resistant buildings. When a building isn’t designed to be blast resistant, it can fail in the event of a catastrophe and also act as an additional hazard to people within the building, so involving experts with a knowledge of what to design for and how to get it done is a critical piece of planning.

An essential resource for not only pre-planning but reducing the potential for death, injury, property, and economic loss due to fire, electrical, and other related incidents is The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a global nonprofit organization with over 300 codes and standards designed to minimize risk. For years, the NFPA Standard 1620, Standard for Pre-Incident Planning, was considered the “standard” for pre-incident planning and has been used by fire services, facility managers, and city planners to develop plans to assist in effectively managing emergencies and destructive events. Recently, the NFPA has updated and consolidated many of its emergency preparedness, response, and recovery guidelines into a unified standard: NFPA Standard 1660, Standard for Emergency, Continuity, and Crisis Management: Preparedness, Response, and Recovery.

By applying industry standards and leveraging extensive, experts can tailor blast resistant buildings to meet virtually any need. At BakerRisk, we pride ourselves on being one of those expert teams, protecting businesses successfully for over 30 years. Through hazard identification,  , building design solutions, and more, our team is dedicated to keeping people and facilities safe by anticipating potential hazards early and addressing them with thoroughly evaluated guidelines and practical solutions.

While our focus at BakerRisk lies in designing and upgrading permanent purpose-built structures for increased blast-resistant efficiency, other options are available. Notably, the FORTRESS Protective Buildings offer critical safeguards by leveraging decades of R&D to create turnkey precast concrete multi-hazard resistant buildings (MRB) for maximum protection from a wide range of risks. Additionally, BakerRisk collaborates with the team at Rigid Global Buildings to offer blast resistant pre-engineered metal buildings (PEMBs), providing construction projects with more efficient and economical solutions than traditional blast-resistant structures.

By designing with disaster in mind and partnering with blast resistant design professionals who are experienced in erecting structures that can withstand blasts, fires, and more, you can prepare more effectively and prevent potential catastrophes.

Explosion at a petrochemical facility

Blast Resistant Buildings Can Help Mitigate the Effects of an Explosion

The unfortunate reality is that many high-profile and catastrophic explosions could have been either prevented with effective pre-planning methods or mitigated through blast-resistant optimizations. One notable example is the Texas City Refinery Explosion that occurred in March 2005. During a routine start-up, a distillation tower was inadvertently overfilled, leading to a spectacular, geyser-like release of a highly combustible hydrocarbon vapor cloud. This set off a chain reaction of colossal explosions that not only took the lives of 15 people but also left another 180 wounded, marking it as one of the most fatal industrial accidents in recent American history.

Upon thorough investigation, it was revealed that various avoidable factors played a central role in escalating the disaster. These included deficient safety systems, a pervasive culture of risk acceptance, and structures near process hazards that were ill-equipped to withstand a disaster.

Potential failure points leading to an explosion can vary greatly depending on the industry. They can range from hydrogen systems, battery and Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS), and biofuels, among others, and while the primary objective should always be to prevent such incidents from occurring, it’s equally important to effectively prepare for the eventuality of disaster to minimize risk and potential damage.

No structure is “blast-proof,” but a critical selling point of blast resistant buildings is their certified blast rating. The efficacy of blast resistant structures in protecting against specific hazards can vary, depending on their construction materials and design, so it’s crucial for clients to understand how the blast rating translates to their needs. For example, at times, the duration of protection provided by certain blast-rated structures may be guaranteed for a much shorter amount of time than the owner may realize. Therefore, it is vital to work with safety professionals, such as BakerRisk, to understand what type of blast resistant shelter you need and where to place it appropriately.

BakerRisk has been engaged for decades in evaluating the response of buildings to the full range of hazards posed by industrial operations, developing upgrades to existing buildings to address these hazards, and designing new buildings when required to meet client needs. Our knowledge base and tools for building response assessments and design are built upon decades of experience in analysis, testing, and accidental explosion investigations. This experience has taught us that “one size does not fit all” when it comes to selecting the optimal hazard protection solution, so the “right answer” is the one that best meets all of your needs. This includes the level of protection against the full suite of hazards present at your site (i.e., blast, fire, toxic, fragments, and/or natural phenomena hazards), schedule, and cost (both initial and lifetime). There is no single solution when it comes to the buildings that protect your people, so we at BakerRisk consider the full range of possible solutions to meet our clients’ building needs.

Conclusion

Pre-incident planning and the incorporation of blast-resistant design principles are crucial elements in a comprehensive strategy for disaster risk mitigation. While eliminating risk is an unrealistic goal, partnering with seasoned experts who methodologies, and technologies can significantly diminish potential impacts of these hazards. The result? A safer, more resilient environment primed for the unexpected.

BakerRisk brings unmatched expertise to the table, offering comprehensive solutions for your pre-incident planning and blast-resistant design needs. Through careful risk assessments, investigations, site surveys, and more, we help identify and address vulnerabilities in your existing systems while fostering innovative safety processes. Partner with BakerRisk today to enhance your facility’s safety and resilience to the highest possible level.