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Companies understand that any right-of-way project requires accurate risk indexing. They devote a massive amount of resources to index the risks before, during, and after each project. But why is risk indexing so vital?

Risk indexing is vital in prioritizing ROW hazard tasks. It helps planners to identify the likelihood of hazards and the potential impact these hazards can have on both the right-of-way and surrounding areas. This enables planners to allocate resources to where they’re needed most.

What is Risk Indexing

Before discussing its importance, we must explain what risk indexing is. Risk indexing is the identification and prioritization of potential hazards and risks to a ROW. This is important because risks with a higher likelihood of occurrence require more time, attention, and resources. This can’t happen if right-of-way managers are unaware of potential risks.

Added risks could include safety hazards, financial hazards, environmental hazards, and even legal hazards. They may also include risks the right-of-way could pose to the local area.

ROW managers, for example, need to be aware of environmentally sensitive areas to reduce the impact of a right-of-way. They are known as EGHCA class areas and are EPA regulated and monitored.

Once these risks are identified and added to the index, they’ll be categorized and scored so that each hazard can be appropriately prioritized. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all method for indexing risk, so some ROW management teams may categorize risks differently than others. But, they all have the same end goal of identifying potential risks and determining which risks need more resources and which don’t.

What Are ROW Hazards and Right-of-Way Hazard Tasks

Right-Of-Way hazards can include:

  • Safety Hazards
  • Financial Hazards
  • Environmental Hazards
  • Legal Hazards

Right-of-way Safety Hazards

Safety hazards can be as simple as new workers slipping and falling on the right-of-way during construction. In fact, Supreme Industries did an investigation and found that 70% of the slip, trip, and fall injuries occurred to employees who had been with the company for less than 6 months. Armed with this information, the company was able to design a training program that dropped these slip, trip, and fall injuries down to zero.

Another example of a safety hazard is that certain roadside rights-of-way might be more dangerous than others. ROW planners could mitigate this risk by installing additional physical barriers that would ensure the safety of the workers as well as the right-of-way itself.

Environmental Hazards

Different ROWs may be subjected to various environmental hazards as well. For example, a right-of-way near the mountains of Colorado might be vulnerable to avalanches while a ROW in Florida might have to worry about hurricanes or flooding.

While the environment may put the ROW at risk, the right-of-way could also potentially endanger the environment. Rights-of-way in or around areas with at-risk habitats will need to take steps to ensure that they have no adverse effects on these areas. Risk indexing helps to identify these locations along the ROW.

Legal Hazards

A long pipeline project could have a right-of-way that stretches for many miles. Midstream pipeline builders and operators will have to work with local governments, private property owners and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to establish agreements to operate in certain areas.

Sometimes, even after starting a project, legal issues may arise around these agreements. Different states and localities may have different laws on how these issues are resolved, making legal problems riskier in some areas of the country than others.

Slip/Slope Failure

For most right-of-way projects, the most substantial hazard could be slope failure. This is especially true with pipelines. The reason for this is that pipelines typically run over long distances and will almost always run near mountainous terrain where landslides are likely to develop.

A slope failure will result in a landslide that could endanger the safety of builders, pipeline operators, the surrounding areas, and the actual pipeline itself. Compromised slopes can lead to mud slipping down into sensitive areas of the pipeline. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, landslides have damaged millions of cubic meters of pipelines.

Financial Hazards of ROWs

Improper risk prioritization, or lack thereof, can lead to costly financial repercussions. Many ROW hazards that may have previously been restored quickly with the help of risk indexing might well end up costing exponentially more later on. Catching issues sooner, rather than later, is a priority for any company. It can often save a considerable amount of time and money in the forms of preventable labor, legal, environmental, and other costs.

For example, slope failures can lead to landslides and, as a result, cause massive damage to pipelines, ROWs, and surrounding areas and is almost always costly. If residences or environmentally sensitive areas are affected as well, the total end cost will rise, and legal troubles could ensue. Preventing these incidents with proper risk indexing enables appropriate resource and labor allocation and can be vastly more economical than paying for cleanup, restoration, and restitution after the fact.

Why Is Risk Indexing Vital

Keeping workers safe is vital to any pipeline project. Risk indexing can let project managers know where the most immediate danger lies within the ROW, so they can focus on improving safety in these areas.

Protecting the surrounding environment. Risk indexing can also help right-of-way planners determine which habitats are most affected by pipeline construction and maintenance. These areas can then have more resources allocated to them to help mitigate any potential damage to the local environment.

Profits can also be increased by proper risk indexing. That’s because risk indexing ensures money goes to the areas that need it most. It also minimizes escalation of costs caused by delayed maintenance.

It also helps to keep pipeline construction on schedule. This is because it helps predict potential problems that may otherwise have shut down pipeline activities.

How Is Risk Indexing Accomplished

The book, Risk Assessment in Setting National Priorities, states that “to be cost-effective, a prioritization system must be simple, rapid, and accurate.” For this reason, many companies use UAVs designed to map and monitor a ROWs geography. To demonstrate the risk indexing process, let’s look at how a UAV company could create a risk index for landslips along a pipeline project.

Landslips Along Pipelines

A UAV monitoring company might start the process by creating a baseline map to identify and eliminate any immediate concerns. The UAV could locate several slopes to be rebuilt along a ROW. Slope repair contractors could move in and restore the slope before even starting construction in a right-of-way. The slopes deemed to be the greatest danger are rated higher so work can start on them first.

UAVs will then be used to monitor the ROW continuously, looking out for actual slip movement and to create predictive assessments. Moving slopes and those that could pose a greater hazard to sensitive areas will be moved up the risk index. Upon completion, UAVs can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the remediation efforts.

Environmentally Sensitive Areas

UAV monitoring not only protects the pipeline but also protects environmentally sensitive areas. For example, UAV monitoring can be used to create a two-tiered analysis to monitor what happens to the ground and its potential environmental risk. This type of monitoring is especially critical in areas running through or around at-risk habitats.

Monitoring an area using UAVs will help the pipeline to comply with EPA regulations and any other governing bodies concerned with the potential impacts of the ROW and pipeline. Doing so will also help to keep the company in good standing with the public. This is critical as a poor public image could impede the construction of new projects in the future. Conversely, a positive public image could make it easier and faster for the company to obtain the approvals it needs to create new projects.

In these cases, heat maps are usually created to allow right-of-way managers to see, at a glance, which areas should take top priority and receive the most resources. Commonly the color coding system uses dark red to denote areas that are most at risk.

Final Thoughts

Risk indexing is a complex process that involves many different areas of a ROW. With the help of specialized knowledge and expertise, as well as the latest in UAV technology, this process can be simple, cost-effective, and accurate.

Solspec is serious about risk indexing. We know that keeping pipeline projects on time, keeping workers safe, and reducing the environmental impact are all critical to your project’s success. We are proud to have some of the fastest data turnaround times in the industry. To find out how Solspec can help you with hazard identification, indexing, and more, check out our ROW integrity management page.

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