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  • 11 November 2014
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What you need to know about pipe marking and facility safety

When you think about workplace safety, the first things that come to mind are probably personal protective equipment, fall protection, materials handling safety and safe operation of machinery. However, there are hundreds of safety details recommended by OSHA, the EPA, state agencies, and even organisations like the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) or the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). 

Although recommended, pipe marking is often one that gets overlooked, but it is in fact an extremely important practice. It has the potential to prevent dangerous accidents, streamline your operation and possibly even cut insurance costs. You could find that a small investment in pipe labels will have a large impact on the health, safety and efficiency of your employees. 

How does pipe marking increase safety? 

In its simplest form, pipe marking is an easy way to display the contents and operating temperatures of your piping system. A quick glance will tell maintenance, engineers and other employees which safety precautions to use before handling the piping or making repairs. 

When done right, pipe marking increases the safety of your facility in several ways. Clearly labelling with chemical names lets employees look up relevant MSDS data quickly. Colour-coding systems that show hazard levels tell you what to do if a pipe is leaking. Label your piping system with flow direction arrows, and your staff will know which direction to look when they need access to shutoff valves. 

Are pipe labels required by law? 

Several organisations require compliance with pipe marking standards. Chief among them is OSHA. It’s an unenforced rule, which means that you are not likely to face severe fines or penalties for failing to mark your pipes, but OSHA does require that facilities label pipes according to the ANSI A13.1 standard. 

Other standards are not required by law, but they are necessary for your facility to receive certification from standardisation organisations. These include ISO 14726 and British Standard Institution 1710 or European Standard EC Directive 92/58/EEC for European companies. 

How to mark pipes 

To bring your pipe labelling system up to ANSI standards, you’ll need to be aware of several factors, including label colours, locations and the sizes of both the labels and the lettering. Proper label sizing is important for two reasons: Larger labels offer maximum visibility, but if they exceed certain sizes, pipe curvature will obscure the lettering. 

For example, pipes that are an inch or less in diameter need labels that are 1-1/8 inches high and 4 inches wide, with lettering that is at least 1/2 inch tall. Pipes that are 8 inches and larger need to have labels that are 4 inches by 20 inches, and the lettering should be 3 1/2 inches high. 

ANSI standards also dictate the colours you’ll need to use based on the contents of the piping system. 

  • Red with white text is for fire-quenching liquids.
  • Orange with black text is for corrosive or toxic fluids.
  • Yellow with black text is for flammable liquids.
  • Brown with white text is for combustible liquids.
  • Green with white text is for all water lines.
  • Blue with white text is for compressed air. 

In some facilities, British marking standards are used in conjunction with ANSI standards. British standards use colour bands to denote the contents, temperature and hazard level of the pipe. A boiler line would have a central white band signifying water, two flanking red bands to tell employees that the water is hot, and outer green bands to show water’s low hazard level. 

Pipe marker placement is just as important as the colours and sizes. According to ANSI standards, pipes must be marked at each of these locations: 

  • Wherever a pipe emerges from or exits through a wall, floor or ceiling.
  • To either side of bends, tees and other joints.
  • To either side of flanges, valves and other hardware.
  • Every 25 to 50 feet on straight stretches.
  • Anywhere the label will be visible from a normal vantage. 

All labels should also have an arrow that indicates the flow direction of your piping system. The arrows can be at either end or both ends of the label. 

The majority of pipe labels are made from either PVC or vinyl, and come with an adhesive backing for quick and easy installation. These labels are normally suitable for use on all types of piping, from PVC to metal tubing. However, in certain instances, such as extremely hot pipes, you may need to use hanging tags or stencil your labels on with heat-resistant paint. 

As you can see, pipe marking can give employees a lot of information about the piping system. That information tells your staff exactly how to handle emergencies, and it can make repairs and upgrades much easier. Compared to required safety training, personal protective gear and all the other safety measures you’ve already put in place, pipe marking is both an inexpensive and simple way to ensure the health and safety of your workforce.