September 30, 2010

Chlorine Gas leak reported from pipe

A news item reports that chlorine gas leaked from one of the pipes crossing a road in a factory in Chennai. From the picture that is accompanying the article it appears that the leak occurred near a culvert. Read the full article in this link.
While I am not commenting on the cause of the leak, if you have pipes carrying hazardous chemicals crossing roads through culverts, ensure that they are inspected for corrosion and thickness reduction. Especially vulnerable are the drain and vent points. Your mechanical integrity program must cover this.

Natural gas pipelines - emergency isolation valves

The recent natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, USA has raised an important point. It appears that the company employees had to drive through rush hour traffic for more than an hour to close manual valves to isolate the leaky pipeline.
In any pipeline transporting hazardous material, remotely operated emergency isolation valves must be provided to immediately isolate the supply of the hazardous material safely. Also, test them to ensure they are in operating condition.
Read the full article in this link

September 29, 2010

Control systems - do not complicate things!

The last decade has seen a huge change in the control systems of process plants with advanced DCS systems and other new technologies being deployed. I personally feel that the onus lies on the customer to implement only what he requires and will be useful to operators during an emergency / for trouble shooting and not to implement the complete solutions that come along with the package. I have seen in many incidents that the cause of the incident was caused by too much information coming to the operator from the system thus overloading him and diminishing his capabilities to act correctly.
I strongly believe in the principle that WE HAVE TO KEEP IT SIMPLE YET FUNCTIONAL!
Why do we have to complicate things and then work on uncomplicating them?
Read an article on the dangers that are brought on by newer technologies and control systems in this link

September 27, 2010

Run to failure or run to safety?

The Vice President of the USW, a body representing workers has mentions that "the oil industry's run to failure mentality concerning equipment gets worse every day. He also said that the union will not give up its campaign to have enforceable health and safety language.He added that "It's all about money. The refiners run the units longer to sell as much product as possible."
Mr Rafael Moure Eraso chair of the US Chemical Safety Board said that "We see a growing crisis of safety in the oil sector." He cited the Gulf rig disaster as well as recent explosions and fires at onshore production, processing, and refining facilities.
Mr Beevers said that the industry needs to bring back shorter periods between turnovers, which are times when a refinery is shut down for maintenance.
Mr Moure Eraso said that operators have told him that turnarounds that normally occur every two to three years are happening now every four to five years. They have said that broken equipment is not immediately addressed and workers are told to work around the problem".

This is a classical production Vs Safety question. How do you decide the intervals between planned shutdowns for maintenance? Of late, due to market pressures, many organisations are increasing the duration between shutdowns.In the interest of process safety, this decision has to be made very carefully after weighing all options, including ageing of the plant,process incidents and maintenance data.
Read the full article in this link.

September 24, 2010

Oil fire in pipeline in China

Thanks to NP Rao for sharing this powerpoint show of the firefighters in China fighting the fire and subsequent oil spill in the oil pipeline in China.

September 22, 2010

Overfilled rail tanker "burps" isobutane!

An incident has been reported in the US where an overfilled rail tanker was overfilled and it appears that the safety valve lifted momentarily, causing what observers report as a burp! A passerby called 911 and the excess isobutane was transferred to a road tanker. Many of the chemicals in India are transferred in rail tankers. Ensure that they are not overfilled. It will not show up immediately but as the day warms up, there is a likelihood of overpressurising of the tanker.
Read more of the news and see the video in this link.

Process safety - Its lonely at the top!

Imagine what Tony Hayward the erstwhile CEO of BP must have gone through following the oil rig accident. In India, prosecutions of the "Occupier" are on the increasing trend. An article mentions that "There are few places on earth more lonely than the space occupied by a corporate executive who is potentially responsible for a process safety mishap resulting in significant injuries to property, the environment and people. Often, support for such executives at that time can be seen by governmental authorities and the public as a failure of the corporation to take responsibility for the consequences of the catastrophic incident. On the other hand, abandoning such individuals in their time of need—particularly as they are subjected to regulatory and criminal investigations and the initiation of civil lawsuits—is seldom in the best interests of the corporation.
The best time to consider these issues is long before the adverse critical incident occurs. Most state laws require indemnification of employees charged with wrongdoing during the course of their employment, as long as those employees are ultimately exonerated. In addition, broad corporate indemnity provisions and directors and officers (D&O) insurance policies are available to protect such employees".

Read the full article in this link

September 20, 2010

The human consequences of a fire accident

Many chemical plant personnel take work permit systems for granted. It just becomes a piece of paper after some time. From time to time a harsh reality check is required for people to understand the dangers of hot work and working with flammable materials. I came across an article which is an amazing tale of a fire accident survivor who is now a professional speaker. His name is Spencer Beach and he has written a book about his ordeal. He was gravely injured in a fire accident with a solvent/thinner. The photo attached in the article is not for the lighthearted. But I felt that people should realise the human impact of a fire accident. Read more of this article in this link.

September 19, 2010

Running blind - the dangers of reactive chemistry

There is a lot of ignorance about reaction hazards in the batch processing industry. As long as incidents do not occur, operators of reactors that handle reactive chemicals seem to think that it will never happen to them. The fallacy is that we seem to think that big reactors are safe as they look strong! It is the other way around in reactive chemistry! If you do not know the sizing basis of your cooling/condensing systems, your vent/scrubber systems and details of the reactions you are handling, you are running blind! Read a basic article on dangers of reactive chemistry in this link.

OSHA warns power plant operators on hazards of natural gas purging

Further to the explsoion in a new power plant that occurred due to purging of natural gas lines with natural gas instead of other safer alternatives, OSHA has come out with a warning to all power plant operators. Read it in this link.

Hazardous chemicals lying in Indian Ports

Outlook magazine has brought out an article on the hazardous chemicals lying in various Indian ports. Recently, chlorine gas had leaked from old cylinders in the Mumbai Port. The article mentions that 92.4 metric tonnes of methyl monomer, a toxic compound used for making plastics, has been lying at the New Mangalore port since June this year. The article also mentions that more than 203 metric tonnes of various kinds of hazardous substances lies scattered around Mumbai port; another 200 metric tonnes lies awaiting disposal at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust. Read the full article in this link

September 14, 2010

Pesticides - safety and health information

Thanks to Ajay Pancholi for sending the useful link for all health and safety information about pesticides. See this link

Fire in GAIL plant kills one

A fire in a GAIL plant has killed a deputy manager. GAIL is the national distributor of natural gas. The accident happened at their Auraiya plant. Read more of the accident in this link.
Abhay Gujar also sent the news that the fire occurred in the crude hexane reboiler in unit-1 during a routine maintenance operation.
Hope the oil industry safety directorate investigates the incident and puts up the reasons for the incident on their website....

September 12, 2010

Narural gas pipe explosion inUSA

A natural gas pipelines explosion in the US town of San Bruno has devastated the area.A news article mentions the following:
"The force of the explosion was large enough to level the area immediately around the blast’s epicenter. NTSB teams, as well as local investigators, are combing through the blast zone looking for evidence that will allow them to determine the cause. The primary problem with useful evidence in a fire investigation is the simple fact that much of it burns up during the event. Therefore, investigators have to look beyond the physical evidence to gain insight as to what really went wrong. Investigators are looking at the maintenance and safety records of the gas main in question, to see if red flags appear. They are also looking into the personal records of all individuals who worked on that particular section of pipe. This includes, drug problems and the general performance records of key individuals involved in the pipe’s maintenance.
Once the gas main has been designed and stringent regulations have been met, it’s up to qualified contractors to safely install the pipe. Lengths of pipe are specially welded together by trained pipe welders and this presents a potential problem. Anytime there is human interaction in the process of building something, the question arises; did that individual do their job correctly? The same holds true for the entire construction process. There have been numerous construction related disasters that were caused by insufficient materials, poor safety regulations and cost cutting. While there is no indication that these forces are at work here, the question still arises, was human error the driving factor in this accident? Mathematically, the odds are sadly in favor of human error".

Read the article in this link

How good and robust are your natural gas line inspection procedures? Are they getting implemented?

September 11, 2010

Abandoned cylinders and now abandoned tanks!

A fire in an abandoned tank in the Chennai port trust indicates that after the recent chlorine gas leak from abandoned gas cylinders in Mumbai port, we do not seem to learn our lessons. It appears that hot work was in progress in the vicinity of the abandoned tank when it caught fire. Read the full article in this link

September 10, 2010

Ammonia transfer hose leak incident

An incident has been reported where a ammonia transfer hose developed a leak in a factory in China. Hoses are the weakest link in any system and you have to implement a proper mechanical integrity plan in place to avoid incidents. Read the article in this link.

BP oil rig disaster internal investigation report

BP has released their internal investigation report of the oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The report is obviously an initial investigation on the causes and does not go into why the failures occurred. This is stated by BP as follows:
It may also be appropriate for BP to consider further work to examine potential systemic issues beyond the immediate cause and system cause scope of this investigation. The summary of the report findings are given below:
1. The investigation team concluded that there were weaknesses in cement design and testing, quality assurance and risk assessment.
2. The investigation team concluded that hydrocarbon ingress was through the shoe track, rather than through a failure in the production casing itself or up the wellbore annulus and through the casing hanger seal assembly.
3.The investigation team has identified potential failure modes that could explain how the shoe track cement and the float collar allowed hydrocarbon ingress into the production casing.
4.The Transocean rig crew and BP well site leaders reached the incorrect view that the test was successful and that well integrity had been established.
5.The rig crew did not recognize the influx and did not act to control the well until hydrocarbons had passed through the BOP and into the riser.
6.If fluids had been diverted overboard, rather than to the Mud gas separator (MGS), there may have been more time to respond,and the consequences of the accident may have been reduced.
7.The design of the MGS system allowed diversion of the riser contents to the MGS vessel although the well was in a high flow condition. This overwhelmed the MGS system.
8.The heating, ventilation and air conditioning system probably transferred
a gas-rich mixture into the engine rooms, causing at least one engine to overspeed, creating a potential source of ignition.
9.Through a review of rig audit findings and maintenance records, the investigation team found indications of potential weaknesses in the testing regime and maintenance management system for the Blow out presenter (BOP).

Point no. 8 is a repeat of the ignition source in the BP Texas city refinery explosion where a pick up truck took in vapours through its air intake and triggered the initial explosion.Are we learning from our incidents?
Read the executive summary of the report in this link.

September 9, 2010

Oleum gas leak

A news article has reported an oleum gas leak from a facility in Miami. The article mentions that a temporary evacuation was done and the officials do not believe much of the gas was released. Read more of the article in this link.

September 8, 2010

The BP oil rig disaster

A presentation in the Global maritime Congress 2010 by Clay Maitland about the cause of the BP oil rig disaster mentions the following:
What were the underlying causes of the disaster?
• Complacency and routinism; the tendency of those within a large organisation to avoid testing established policies.
• “Bean-counteritis”; a failure to examine constraints on risk management budgets.
• Collectivism; a conviction that existing company policy is, by definition, the best that could possibly be. In American parlance, this is often called “drinking the company Kool-Aid.” It entails a rejection of rigourous analysis of internal management systems,and their appraisal for possible deficiencies.
• A failure, from top to bottom, to subject these systems to outside scrutiny, in the manner of the International Maritime Organisation’s Member State Audit Scheme.
• A tendency to stigmatise concern for the environment as something repugnantly radical, “Greenpeace Socialism”, “tree-hugging”, etc.
• Most significantly, the failure to establish a risk control or safety awareness mindset at all levels of the corporate hierarchy,particularly at middle-management levels, and to effectively offset a “get it done, at the lowest possible cost” attitude at the “coalface”.

Read the full presentation in this link

Fireworks factory blast in Malta

An article in the Times of Malta mentions about a fireworks factory blast. the reasons mentioned are very true for the firework factories in India also. The fireworks manufacturing industry is unorganized and employs labourers who are not literate. As part of Corporate Social responsibility, the larger players in the chemical industry in India need to assist these unorganised and small scale players to improve their safety while handling hazardous chemicals.
Read the article in this link.

September 6, 2010

Fire in a parcel van in a train due to hexane

Thanks to VB Shritharan for sending this news and link about a fire in a parcel van in a train in Yeshwantpur station due to hexane! I am left wondering how the Railways allowed Hexane to get inside a parcel van! Read more of this article in this link.

September 4, 2010

Caustic soda and process safety

Caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) is a commonly used chemical. Its main uses are in the manufacture of pulp and paper, alumina, soap and detergents, petroleum products and chemical production. Other applications include water treatment, food, textiles, metal processing, mining, glass making etc.
Caustic soda is a also a basic feedstock used in the manufacture of a wide range of chemicals. The Dow Chemical Co. has useful data on process safety aspects related to storage and its design.
Please see the following links:
General storage system guidelines
Storage tank design guidelines
Piping systems

Another fire in oil rig

Another fire has been reported in an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico,though it is reported that this rig was not in operation. The article also mentions that there are 3400 oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico producing 1/3 of the US oil requirements. Read more of the incident in this link.

September 2, 2010

Bhopal and BP – different approaches – different people

An article compares the difference in approaches between the Bhopal Incident and the recent BP oil rig disaster. “Both Union Carbide and BP received clear warning that their operations in Bhopal and Horizon Deepwater were not well managed and therefore had significant safety risks. Over 10 years before the actual catastrophe,a 1973 Union Carbide report signed by the Warren Anderson himself, highlighted that the unproven nature of Bhopal’s technology. In a 1982 safety review, Union Carbide’s own experts also emphasised the serious risk of substantial leaks of “toxic materials” at Bhopal. BP too received adequate warning of impending problems at Horizon Deepwater. A number of internal investigations alerted senior BP managers that safety and environmental rules at Horizon Deepwater were not being properly adhered to.”
Read the full article in this link.

Are your back up systems really capable of back up?

A report of an incident in an aircraft which suffered a cabin depressurization in flight and had to make a rapid descent reinforces the need to ensure your back up systems are working and reliable. It appears that the flight was operating with a single compressor feeding both the cabin pressurisation systems. Due to the high demand, the air temperature and pressure were higher. However the aftercooler was not cooling the air sufficiently due to a cooler fan problem. This led to the compressor shutdown on high air temperature and subsequent loss of cabin pressure. Read the full incident in this link.