Preventing leaks is important, but what about pipeline safety for workers?

This is the third post in CEPA’s “pipeline innovations” blog series. 

In our pipeline innovations blog series, we’ve been talking about technologies that make pipelines safer for the environment and for communities. But what about protecting the people who build Canada’s critical pipeline infrastructure?

That’s where innovations like load moment indicators (LMIs) come in. The technology is used during pipeline construction to help protect both pipeline integrity and worker safety.

To understand how this technology works, let’s first look at how pipelines are built.

How are pipelines installed?


Pipeline construction methods vary depending on terrain; however, a common method of installation goes like this:

  • A trench is dug.
  • Pipe is laid out, joined and welded together.
  • A special coating is applied to the welded joints to prevent corrosion (the whole pipe is also coated before arriving at the construction site).
  • The welded pipe is lowered into the trench using pipelayers, which are machines with special cranes called sidebooms.

“In the lowering-in process, for example, a typical job might have four pipelayers sharing a load,” explained Mark Holt, general manager of Cranesmart Systems, a company that develops LMI technology specifically for pipelayers. “If one or more of the pipelayers is not carrying enough load, it can result in the other machines being overloaded.”

Holt explained that when a machine is overloaded, the pipe can be dropped, which can damage the pipeline. However, in the worst-case scenario, the machine can tip over.

“This can result in injury or death of the pipelayer operator and other workers on the site,” said Holt.

How can companies work to ensure this doesn’t happen? That’s where LMI technology comes in.

What is a load moment indicator?

“The load moment indicating system for pipelayers shows the operator how much weight is being lifted and warns the operator if the machine is being overloaded,” explained Holt.

A LMI system installed on a pipelayer’s boom.

A LMI system installed on a pipelayer’s boom.

How does it work?

A sophisticated device attached to the boom accurately measures how much weight is on the hook – no matter the angle of the boom. Plus, wireless sensors monitor the overhang of the boom and whether the machine is level, Holt explained.

“The overhang and machine level determine machine capacity; the load on the hook compared to the machine capacity is what we call load moment,” he said.

An LMI system inside a pipelayer.

A LMI system inside a pipelayer.

The load moment information is then relayed to the person operating the pipelayer.

It’s about safety

So, how does this technology improve safety?

  1. A LMI system helps keep workers safe by warning the person operating the pipelayer before a machine becomes overloaded.
  2. A LMI system helps protect the integrity of the pipeline being installed.

“If too much force is applied to the pipeline in the wrong way while lowering the pipe into the trench, damage to the weld joints of the pipeline can occur,” said Holt. “Knowing the force on each of the pipelayers during the lowering-in process can aid operators in avoiding damage to these welds.”

Want to learn about other technologies that are helping pipeline companies continuously improve safety and environmental protection?

Check out these other posts in our pipeline innovations blog series:

Photos courtesy of Cranesmart Systems.

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 115,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2013, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Our members transport 97 per cent of Canada’s daily natural gas and onshore crude oil from producing regions to markets throughout North America.