The Department of Labour has authorised industry body the Southern African Gas Association (Saga) to be the verification authority for the natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) industrial equipment industry for South Africa.
All industrial equipment needs to conform to the SANS 329 and SANS 347 specifications, which are used by industry stakeholders to ensure all equipment manufactured in South Africa or imported to South Africa and supplied to the marketplace conforms to the Pressure Equipment Regulations (PER) and is suitable for gas use.
“Gas is cheaper, more efficient and, in some cases, more environment friendly. It can, however, be very dangerous to use if not operated properly,” says insurance provider Risk Benefit Solutions construction and engineering head George Davis.
The PER regulates all natural gas and LPG industrial equipment to ensure it meets a safety standard and will not be the cause of any health hazard or endangerment. The regulations set out the requirements regarding the design, manufacture, operation, repair, modification, maintenance, inspection and testing of pressure equipment.
In terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1993, the PER also requires persons intending to work on any gas systems to undergo specific training and to be registered with certification committee South African Qualification and Certification Committee for Gas to obtain a licence to work on gas systems.
Davis explains that, in an effort to curb unlawful gas installations, Saga – under its mandate – has established the Safe Gas Equipment Scheme (SGES) that is set to ensure that all industrial equipment installed in South Africa has been tested and is in conformance with an international or nationally acceptable standard that is safe and fit for intended purpose.
“All industrial equipment that has been declared fit for use within a gas system will be provided with a Saga equipment verification permit, which is issued to the manufacturer or importer to prove conformity,” he highlights.
Davis points out that a registered gas practitioner will need to indicate and certify on the Certificate of Conformity (COC) that the equipment installed has been confirmed fit for purpose by the SGES committee, a permit number or a certificate must be attached to the COC.
Further, he points out that equipment that has not been awarded a verification permit to be installed leaves the user owning the equipment or operating it liable for any damage or injury that may occur.
“Accidents in nonverified equipment are inevitable; they are a disaster just waiting to happen. The PER is a legally binding regulation, therefore anyone that is not in conformance with these regulations stands to be legally charged,” he explains.
Davis points to an incident that happened on February 17 last year as an example of an unsafe gas systems, when contractors at a naval base in Durban, in KwaZulu-Natal, were assigned to work in the sewer pit when there was a sudden methane gas leakage in one of the underground installations.
“All three of the contractors died, along with three members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) who attempted to rescue them. The six men were exposed to methane gas and all died from inhaling it,” explains SANDF spokesperson Mafi Mgobozi.
Methane gas is a principal component in natural gas and a leakage is deadly. Mgobozi points out that the military police, as well as the South African Police Service are conducting investigations with intent to hold someone liable for the six deaths in a homicide case.
Davis concludes that consumers and gas end-users have to understand that, if their unlawful appliances or installations cause any harm, they are directly liable.