Both the terms are used interchangeably in the process industry as every pressurized system requires safety devices to protect life, property, and environment. Relief valves and safety valves are the two principle safety devices designed to prevent overpressure conditions in process industries. Although, both the devices are used almost for the same purpose, the difference lies mainly in how they operate.
What is a Relief Valve?
Relief valves, or commonly known as pressure relief valves (PRVs), belong to the family of protective devices specifically designed to protect pressure-sensitive systems and equipment from the damaging effects of overpressure conditions. A relief valve device is basically immune to the back pressure effects of a system and is subject to periodic stripdown. Pressure relief valves are one of the most critical parts of a pressure system that are set to open at a preset pressure level in order to avoid system failures. Every pressure system is set with a predetermined design limit called a setpoint, above which the valve begins to open to prevent overpressure conditions.
What is a Safety Valve?
A safety valve is the last resort of people, property, and processes in the process industry comprising of power plants, petrochemicals, boilers, oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, and many more. It’s kind of a fail-safe device that actuates automatically in order to prevent the accumulation of pressure in a vessel or system beyond a preset limit. The device is so designed so that the safety valve trips automatically when the given pressure is attained. It simply allows the excess pressure to escape in order to prevent any damage to the vessel. Additionally, it also makes sure the pressure remains within the limits in the future. Even a slight increment in pressure lifts the safety valve and it closes as soon as the pressure is reduced to the prescribed limit.
Difference between Relief Valve and Safety Valve
Definition of Relief vs. Safety Valve
A relief valve, also known as pressure relief valve (PRV) or safety relief valve, is type of a safety valve device used to limit or control the pressure level in a system within a safe threshold limit to avoid an overpressure condition. In simple terms, a relief valve is a device designed to control the pressure in a vessel or system to a specific set level. A safety valve, on the other hand, is a device used to let go excess pressure from a vessel or equipment when the pressure crosses a certain predetermined limit. It simply allows liquids or gases to escape if the pressure gets too high to prevent any damage.
Pressure relief valves are mainly used in hydraulic systems to limit the pressure in the system to a specific preset level and when the pressure reaches the safety design limit, the relief valve responds by releasing the excess flow from an auxiliary passage from the system back to the tank in order to prevent equipment failure. The main purpose of a safety valve is to protect life, property, and environment against failure in the control system pressure. Simply put, a safety valve opens when the pressure exceeds the designed set pressure limit.
Operation of Relief Valve vs. Safety Valve
For a safety relief valve, the opening is directly proportional to the increase in the vessel pressure. This means the opening of the valve is rather gradual than sudden, allowing it to open only at a preset pressure level and release fluids until the pressure drops to the desired set pressure. A safety valve, on the other hand, will open immediately when the system pressure reaches the set pressure level in order to system failure. It is safety device capable of operating at all times and is the last resort to prevent catastrophic failure in systems under overpressure conditions.
A pressure relief valve is designed to open at a certain pressure level which is generally called as a “setpoint”. A setpoint should not be confused with the set pressure. In fact, a setpoint of a relief valves is adjusted to the lowest maximum pressure rating meaning it is set below the maximum system pressure allowed before the overpressure condition occurs. The valve begins to open when the pressure reaches up to some level above the setpoint. The setpoint is measured in pounds per square inch (PSIG) and must not exceed the maximum allowable working pressure (MAWP). In safety valves, the setpoint is usually set at 3 percent above the working pressure level whereas in relief valves, it is set at 10 percent.
Relief Valve vs. Safety Valve: Comparison Chart
Summary of Relief vs. Safety Valve:
Both relief valves and safety valves are high-performance pressure-sensitive safety devices so designed to control or limit the pressure inside the system or vessel by releasing the excessive pressure from the auxiliary passage out of the system. Although both are common terms used for safety valves, the difference lies mainly in the capacity and setpoint. While the former is operator-assisted and is designed to relieve pressure in order to avoid overpressure condition, the latter is a self-operated device which opens automatically when the maximum allowable pressure is reached. Relief valves are mostly used in fluid or compressed air systems, whereas safety valves are mainly used to release vapor or steam into the atmosphere.