Juries award damages, CSB releases report for fatal Williams Olefins explosion
Nov30

Juries award damages, CSB releases report for fatal Williams Olefins explosion

Costs are mounting for Williams Olefins following a 2013 fire at a plant in Geismar, La., that killed two workers—Zach Green, 29, and Scott Thrower, 47—and injured 167 others. In the past few months, juries have awarded eight injured workers a total of $26.9 million after attorneys “argued that Williams, key management figures and others had known for years that one of two reboilers used in the refinery process was isolated from pressure relief—which meant there was a risk of over-pressurization and explosion,” the Baton Rouge Advocate reported. A reboiler is a heat exchanger that supplies heat to a distillation column. Last month, the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board released its investigation findings. Reported Jeff Johnson for C&EN: The reboiler that failed was one of two in the system that provided heat to the propylene fractionator—a distillation column that separates propylene and propane. The second reboiler was a backup and had been off-line for 16 months. Plant officials assumed the backup reboiler was clean and available for use. When the operating reboiler appeared to have fouled, plant operators began to shift operations to the idle reboiler. The plant operators did not know that the standby reboiler contained hydrocarbons and its pressure relief system was not in proper order, CSB found. As the reboiler’s heat increased, the confined liquid hydrocarbons expanded, resulting in a quick and dramatic pressure rise within the vessel. The shell ruptured, causing a release, an expanding vapor explosion, and a fire. A series of process safety management program deficiencies over the 12 years before the accident allowed the reboiler to be unprotected from overpressure problems, according to CSB. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) also investigated the incident. The agency initially cited the company for six safety violations fined the company $99,000, but that was negotiated down to $36,000. The case remains open pending abatement of violations, according to the OSHA inspection database. Another inspection in the fall of 2013 resulted in one citation and a fine of $7,000. That case is closed. OSHA appears not to have inspected the facility since then. Williams Olefins is a subsidiary of the Williams...

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Explosion kills at least two workers at BASF site in Germany
Oct19

Explosion kills at least two workers at BASF site in Germany

From C&EN’s story: A huge explosion and fire at BASF’s Ludwigshafen, Germany, site—one of the world’s largest chemical complexes—killed two company firefighters. Another employee is missing. Eight other BASF staffers were seriously injured and 17 slightly injured from the fire, which broke out on the morning of Monday, Oct. 17. The explosion and resultant fire occurred among pipelines that connect the firm’s harbor on the Rhine River to the Ludwigshafen complex. Maintenance work was being carried out on the pipelines, some of which carry ethylene and propylene, at the time of the explosion. The fire burned for more than 10 hours before it was extinguished. Go read the story for...

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University of Hawaii fine lowered 40% for lab explosion
Oct12

University of Hawaii fine lowered 40% for lab explosion

From my story at C&EN: The University of Hawaii last week settled its case with the Hawaii Occupational Safety & Health Division (HIOSH) regarding a laboratory explosion in March. The settlement reduces the number of violations from 15 to nine and the fine from $115,500 to $69,300. … The settlement agreement combines similar violations, including two regarding laboratory exits and, separately, four centering on an inadequate chemical hygiene plan. The reduction in overall number of violations, which were assessed the maximum state penalty of $7,700 each, resulted in the reduced fine. The agreement also revised some wording in the violation descriptions. Go read the story for more, including a list of the violations identified by HIOSH. The settlement agreement is posted here, and a copy of the original citation document with changes marked is...

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Students suffered burns, eye injuries at Donghua University
Sep28

Students suffered burns, eye injuries at Donghua University

Three Donghua University graduate students in the School of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, & Bioengineering were injured in an incident involving potassium permanganate, according to the university and local news reports. The university says in a Sept. 23 post on the microblogging site Weibo that the incident is still being investigated. Two of the students were taken to the hospital, where they were treated for facial burns and eye injuries, the Sept. 23 post says. One of the two hospitalized students required eye surgery and further treatment. The third injured student received abrasions and was not hospitalized, the University posted on Sept. 21. The Sigma-Aldrich Safety Data Sheet for potassium permanganate notes that it is an oxidizer that can cause skin corrosion and serious eye damage. It is also toxic if consumed orally by humans. I’ve e-mailed the dean of the Donghua School Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, & Bioengineering to find out more about the incident, but so far he has not responded to me. If anyone who reads Chinese would like to go through the 44 pages of comments of Weibo and let me know if there’s any more information there, I’d welcome...

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University of Hawaii faces $115,500 fine for lab explosion
Sep27

University of Hawaii faces $115,500 fine for lab explosion

From my story at C&EN: The University of Hawaii faces a total $115,500 fine for 15 workplace safety violations after a laboratory explosion in March on the university’s Manoa campus. Postdoctoral researcher Thea Ekins-Coward, who worked for the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, lost one of her arms in the explosion. You can read the rest here, including a full list of the citations. All of the citations were labeled as “serious” and given the maximum state penalty of $7,700 each. Federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) watchers will look at that $7,700 number and wonder why it’s so low. Earlier this year, OSHA increased its maximum penalty for a serious violation to $12,471. States that operate their own occupational safety and health plans are required to match or meet the federal civil penalties. Hawaii has not yet updated its civil penalties because the federal guidance was issued too late in the Hawaii legislative session this year, Hawaii Occupational Safety & Health Division spokesman William G. Kuntsman says. For more about the OSHA fine increases and other ways the agency is looking to strengthen consequences for companies that endanger workers, see my story from earlier this year, “Chemical employers to face tougher worker safety...

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“They appear confident that what happened to other people won’t happen to them”
Jul21

“They appear confident that what happened to other people won’t happen to them”

Looking at this story about a particular bluff in Oregon’s Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area, is there an analogy to be made about research lab safety? The “Pedestal Rock” is on a notorious sandstone bluff at Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area, which is fenced off and bordered by signs warning people not to go there. Seven people have died in the area since 2009. Six fatal falls have taken place during the past two years. Rescue efforts by the local fire district and U.S. Coast Guard cost upward of $21,000 per hour, often topping out near $106,000. Yet people continue to flood past the fence and signs. Adults, teenagers, grandparents, photographers and even parents with small children disregard the warnings. “We’re not seeing much confusion about what the current signs and fence mean,” said Chris Havel, spokesman for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. “Even people who are aware of the deaths walk right past the fence and signs into that area. They appear confident that what happened to other people won’t happen to them.” … Starting last month, [Park Ranger Lisa Stevenson] patrols the fence at Cape Kiwanda. Leading with friendliness and facts, she looks to start a dialogue rather than a confrontation, even when people don’t want to hear it. h/t...

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