High-pressure gas pipelines are vulnerable to damage in the course of building or maintaining other infrastructure, such as roads, water pipelines, electricity or telecommunications cabling. Unlike other countries, there has never been a death or serious injury from a high-pressure gas pipeline strike in Australia and yet external interference continues to be the most common cause of pipeline damage despite a range of technical and legislative measures in place. This research project aims to enhance the safety strategies regarding third party pipeline strikes by giving the pipeline sector a greater understanding of the motivations and priorities of those who work around pipeline assets and so how to work with them to achieve better outcomes.

Using data gathered from more than 70 in-depth interviews, we explore empirically alternate understandings of risk amongst a range of stakeholders and individuals that are responsible in some way for work near or around high-pressure gas transmission pipelines in Australia. Outside the pipeline sector, much of the work around pipelines is conducted by those at the bottom of long chains of contractors and sub-contractors. We discuss perceptions of risk held by a range of third party actors whose activities have the potential to threaten gas pipeline integrity. We compare these views with gas pipeline industry perceptions of risk, couched in terms of asset management, public safety, legal and insurance obligations, and reputation management.

This paper focuses on how financial risk and so also management of the potential for pipeline strikes is shifted down the third party contractor chain. Added to this, incentives for timely project completion can unintentionally lead to situations where the potential for third party contractors to strike pipelines increases. The data shows that third party contractors feel the time and cost impact of design or project changes most immediately. Consequently, strikes or near misses may result as sub-contractors seek to avoid perceived ‘unnecessary’ time delays along with the associated financial impact. We argue that efforts to reduce the potential for pipeline strike need to be targeted at structural changes, rather than simply aimed at worker risk perception and enforcement of safety compliance strategies.

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