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Debunking the Top 3 Myths About Blast Hazards

Extreme Loads and Structural Risk

Common Misconceptions of Blast Hazards [Part 1]

Blast hazards are present industry-wide, commonly linked to sources such as vapor clouds, bursting vessels, and in extreme instances, acts of terrorism. While there are general rules of thumb that guide our knowledge about blast hazard effects and assessments, there are also common misconceptions. These often stem from misinterpretation, partial understanding or new information superseding previous knowledge. Discover the most common blast hazards misinformation organizations will encounter and should promptly address.

Myth #1 - My Structure is "Blast-Proof"

There is no such thing as a "blast-proof" structure. Every structure is designed for a specific set of blast loads and acceptance criteria. In other words, it is blast-resistant up to a certain level. New or existing hazards may result in more demanding loads on structures such as new or existing facilities. Also, if a structure's use changes, it may call for a more stringent acceptance or design criteria.

Facility and safety managers should not overlook or consider a structure "invincible" when they evaluate blast hazards, even when it was designed to be blast resistant. We recommend the following to help avoid misinterpretations:

  • Diligently keep records of building designs and criteria
  • Document building capabilities of performance requirements
  • Understand the level of risk acceptance for use of the structure
  • Maintain an effective management of change program to assist in identifying potential deviations from previous hazards

It's Blast Proof Honest

Myth #2 - Overpressure Below 1 PSI is Safe 

Don't Worry, It's Less Than 1psi, It Won't Hurt Me

Injuries can be caused by non-structural items at overpressures below this threshold. Several blast assessments guides and technical manuals suggest that conventionally designed structures with predicted overpressures of 1 psi or less will cause very little damage and no injuries. While this can be the case for some structures, there are certainly exceptions to this type of broad generalization. Items such as windows, bookshelves or storage racks placed against exterior walls, light fixtures and overhead HVAC equipment can become flying or falling debris after being disconnected or impacted by the exterior structure movement during an explosive event.

Pre-engineered metal buildings, self-framing insulated metal panel buildings and lightweight trailers are examples of structural systems constructed so efficiently that there is little to no reserve capacity for even a small amount of additional loading. Significant damage and potential injuries are possible under relatively low blast loads.

Facility and safety managers should carefully consider the type of structures and their use when deciding that blast hazards are low enough to not be a potential risk. Many industry guides now indicate that both pressure and impulse should be utilized to perform blast assessments for the protection of personnel. The use of pressure limits/asymptotes alone are highly discouraged.

Myth #3 - The Bigger the Building, the Safer We Are

Heavy steel or reinforced concrete structures do not symbolize blast resistance. The goal of a good blast design is to create structures that are capable of absorbing blast energy without a catastrophic failure overall. Structural systems and members that are designed to respond in a ductile manner (i.e., bend before break) are essential in absorbing blast energy. It is equally as important that supports and connections be capable of transferring the full ultimate capacity of a structural member. The loss of support or connection often results in a sudden failure (i.e. break before bend) and potential catastrophic collapse. However, this does not mean every blast design should resemble a bunker or bomb shelter.

Bigger Is Always Better Right

Designers that are not familiar with blast design techniques tend to increase the size of structural systems and members to add a safety margin. This can produce structures that are oversized, uneconomical, unbalanced and many times unwarranted. At worst, heavier designs will transfer higher loads to supports which can be overlooked and result in potential risk for a non-ductile response and failure.

Facility and safety managers should be familiar with blast design philosophy and intended performance. It is highly important to engage design teams with blast considerations that are familiar and directly experienced in blast design and philosophy.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our Blast Hazards Myth Series where we'll combat even more dangerous and industry-wide misconceptions. 
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