The most important safety devices in a production facility are the pressure relief valves, which ensure that pipes, valves, fittings, and pressure vessels can never be subjected to pressures higher than their design pressures. Relief valves must be designed to open rapidly and fully, and be adequately sized to handle the total flow of gas and liquids that could potentially cause an overpressure situation. They relieve the pressure by routing this stream to a safe location where it can be vented to atmosphere or burned.
As long as pressure, level, and temperature control devices are operating correctly, the safety system is not needed. If the control system malfunctions, then pressure, level, and temperature safety switches sense the problem so the inflow can be shut off. If the control system fails and the safety switches don’t work, then relief valves are needed to protect against overpressure. Relief valves are essential because safety switches do fail or can be bypassed for operational reasons. Also, even when safety switches operate correctly, shutdown valves take time to operate, and there may be pressure stored in upstream vessels that can overpressure downstream equipment while the system is shutting down. Relief valves are an essential element in the facility safety system.