July 29, 2011

Risks while attending to an emergency

A friend has sent details of an incident in an onshore oil well which experienced a fire. When the operations team went in a vehicle to isolate the well, they had to cross a oil spill on the track. While doing so, the vehicle caught fire and 5 personnel died.
This incident highlights the need to address all possible scenarios in your drills. No drill can be the real thing but better be prepared for the worst.

July 27, 2011

Warnings before a disaster

An article by Reuters on the Fukushima nuclear disaster highlights the fact that no accident comes without warning. There will be enough signals that an accident is about to happen but we may ignore it either out of risk blindness or pressure on production. The article highights the following about the Fukushima disaster: Cost saving culture, complaceny setting in and maintenance philosophies for older plants. All the points are applicable in the chemical industry, too.
Read the article in this link

July 26, 2011

Appeal to readers

I have been regularly writing this blog with a view to spread awareness of process safety and avoid another incident like the Bhopal gas disaster. I had already appealed to all readers to send some process incidents (short summary) which they may know so that it can be shared with everyone. Company's name need not be disclosed. I appeal again to readers to send some incidents so that it can be shared with everyone, indicating whether you want your name to be published or not. I hope my appeal draws responses this time. If you spare few minutes of your time, it would make a difference.Thank you.Write to me at bkprism@gmail.com

Incidents in Heavy Water Plant - lessons to learn

I chanced to come across an old paper by Mr Kanthiah, Mr Vaidyan and Mr Bhowmick of Heavy water plant, Tuticorin about incidents that occurred in the heavy water plant. The lessons are valid even today. The incidents discussed are:
1. Rupture of ammonia cracker tubes
2. Water entry in a cable junction box thru nitrogen line. (A nitrogen hose connected to a boiler filled with DM water allowed water to enter the nitrogen line when nitrogen supply failed)
3. Potassium amide splash on personnel due to choking of line upstream of vent wth solid potassium amide
4. Synthesis gas booster compressor trip due to malfunction of seal oil level transmitter.

Read details of the incidents in this link.

July 24, 2011

Hazardous waste tanker explosion

A news article mentions the following:
"No one was injured when a truck carrying hazardous waste exploded at a Sawyer truck stop Thursday night, but crews spent all night Thursday and all day Friday cleaning up the mess.
 The truck carrying a type of industrial waste, which was being hauled from Chicago to Canada for disposal, started to leak after the chemical reacted with something else inside the tank or parts of the tank itself.

State police Trooper Jim Janes at the Bridgman post said the waste, some type of hydroxide, was not flammable. The explosion tore apart the truck but there was no fire, he said."The tank isn't designed to carry a pressurized load. There was some type of reaction inside that tank. The pressure built up faster than the tank could handle. The liquid did not appear to be flammable, but we haven't completely identified what the material was," he said".
Read the article in this link

July 22, 2011

Table top drills for terrorism

I read an article where emergency responders in the USA conducted a table top drill for terrorist activities in an utility plant. It is always better to be prepared than regret later. Assess your security vulnerabilities (both physical and cyber) and be always prepared. Read the article in this link.

July 20, 2011

The legacy of Bhopal

The Bhopal gas disaster comprises actually of three disasters - the first was the actual incident, the second was the inadequate compensation received and the third is the ongoing legacy of genetic defects and effects of the hazardous waste that has seeped into the ground water.Every plant operating and maintenance personnel must never forget the lessons of Bhopal. They are still relevant today. Read an article about the toxic wastes in this link.

July 16, 2011

Hydrochloric acid safety

Hydrochloric acid is used in many water treatment units attached to chemical plants. Occidental Chemical Corporation has published a Hydrochloric acid handbook, as part of its commitment to Responsible Care. The guidebook will be useful to everyone who handles and designs systems for hydrochloric acid storage, unloading and loading. Download the handbook from this link. (Pdf file...be patient)

July 13, 2011

Chemical company cited for process safety violations

A chemical company has been cited by OSHA for 11 process safety violations. They include the following
"failing to provide a written plan for employee participation, written shift change procedures, adequate process chemistry documentation, pressure relief system design and design basis, electrical classification documentation, and written mechanical integrity procedures.
Additionally, the company’s operating procedures lacked documentation of chemical properties and hazards, documentation of control measures to occur after physical and inhalation exposure to hazardous chemicals, and emergency shutdown procedures. The company also failed to ensure equipment complied with recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices, conduct compliance audits, conduct initial process hazard analysis, inspect and test equipment, and manage changes to the operating procedures before they were made".
Read the article in this link.

July 10, 2011

Cutting cost at what cost?

Recently, a low cost airline has been grounded in Australia allegedly for safety violations. In the chemical industry, too, cutting cost and maintaining competitiveness is the order of the day. But how can you cut cost without compromising process safety? Many organizations have institutionalized risk based approaches towards cost cutting initiatives. But I find that competency of the personnel using such approaches is key to its success. Top management oversight of such risk based approaches can be effective only of someone at the top understands process safety and the implications of a cost cutting change or modification . I often observe some cost cutting changes slipping through such risk based approaches as they were wrongly evaluated by the person doing the evaluation. Ensure you have robust risk management systems and more so, that a person at the top management level is providing management oversight of the whole process. This person must be competent in process safety and risk based approaches. You cannot compromise on this. Act before it is too late. At least the aviation industry has someone external to it to oversee its safety. But in the Chemical Industry, organisations must watch out for this.

July 8, 2011

CSB Draft report on DuPont accidents - lessons to learn

The CSB has released a draft report of the three accidents at DuPont facilities. The report mentions the following: "CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said the three accidents particularly concerned CSB personnel given DuPont’s longstanding reputation for a commitment to safety. Noting the company started as a gunpowder manufacturer in 1802, and became a major chemical producer within 100 years, Dr. Moure-Eraso said, “DuPont has had a stated focus on accident prevention since its early days. Over the years, DuPont management worked to drive the injury rate down to zero through improved safety practices.” Dr. Moure-Eraso continued, “DuPont became recognized across industry as a safety innovator and leader. We at the CSB were therefore quite surprised and alarmed to learn that DuPont had not just one but three accidents that occurred over a 33-hour period in January 2010.
CSB board member and former chairman John Bresland also spoke at the news conference: “These kinds of findings would cause us great concern in any chemical plant – but particularly in DuPont with its historically strong work and safety culture. In light of this, I would hope that DuPont officials are examining the safety culture company-wide.”
Member Bresland noted the CSB finding that the phosgene hose that burst in front of a worker was supposed to be changed out at least once a month. But the hose that failed had been in service for seven months. Furthermore, the CSB found the type of hose involved in the accident was susceptible to corrosion from phosgene. Team Lead Johnnie Banks said, “Documents obtained during the CSB investigation showed that as far back as 1987 DuPont officials realized the hazards of using the braided stainless steel hoses lined with Teflon, or PTFE. An expert employed at DuPont recommended the use of hoses lined with Monel, a strong metal alloy used in highly corrosive conditions. The DuPont official stated: ‘Admittedly, the Monel hose will cost more than its stainless counterpart. However, with proper construction and design so that stresses are minimized…useful life should be much greater than 3 months. Costs will be less in the long run and safety will also be improved.’”In fact, the Monel hose was never used. Internal DuPont documents released with the CSB draft report indicate that in the 1980’s, company officials considered increasing the safety of the area of the plant where phosgene is handled by enclosing the area and venting the enclosure through a scrubber system to destroy any toxic phosgene gas before it entered the atmosphere. However, the documents show the company calculated the benefit ratio of potential lives saved compared to the cost and decided not to make the safety improvements. A DuPont employee wrote in 1988, “It may be that in the present circumstances the business can afford $2 million for an enclosure; however, in the long run can we afford to take such action which has such a small impact on safety and yet sets a precedent for all highly toxic material activities?”
The need for an enclosure was reiterated in a 2004 process hazard analysis conducted by DuPont, but four extensions were granted by DuPont management between 2004 and 2009, and at the time of the January 2010 release, no safety enclosure or scrubber system had been constructed. CSB investigators concluded that an enclosure, scrubber system, and routine requirement for protective breathing equipment before personnel entered the enclosure would have prevented any personnel exposures or injuries.
The CSB investigation found common deficiencies in DuPont Belle plant management systems springing from all three accidents: Maintenance and inspections, alarm recognition and management, accident investigation, emergency response and communications, and hazard recognition.
CSB Team Lead Banks said, “The CSB found that each incident was preceded by an event or multiple events that triggered internal incident investigations by DuPont, which then issued recommendations and corrective actions. But this activity was not sufficient to prevent the accidents from recurring.”
The CSB draft report recommends that the DuPont Belle facility revise its near-miss reporting and investigation policy to emphasize anonymous participation by all employees so that minor problems can be addressed before they become serious. The CSB report also recommends the Belle plant ensure that its computer systems will provide effective scheduling of preventive maintenance to require, for example, that phosgene hoses get replaced on time.
The CSB draft recommends that the DuPont Corporation require all phosgene production and storage areas company-wide have secondary enclosures, mechanical ventilation systems, emergency phosgene scrubbers, and automated audible alarms, which are at a minimum consistent with the standards of the National Fire Protection Code 55 for highly toxic gases.
Industry groups have established various good practices for the safe handling of phosgene and other highly toxic materials in compressed gas cylinders. The draft report concluded that the most comprehensive guidelines are those set forth by the National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA.
The draft report recommends that industry-organizations such as the Compressed Gas Association (CGA) and the American Chemistry Council (ACC) adopt the more stringent guidelines of the NFPA for the safe handling of phosgene and other highly toxic gases.
The report recommends the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) update its compressed gas safety standard to include modern safeguards for toxic gases such as phosgene. These improved safeguards include: Secondary enclosures for units using phosgene, mechanical ventilation systems, emergency phosgene scrubbers, and automated audible alarms".

See the press release in this link 
See a video of the animation of the phosgene incident in this link.

July 7, 2011

Thermal expansion of crude oil causes an incident

A HSE press release mentions that an incident had occurred in a crude oil pipeline due to thermal expansion of the crude oil. The report mentions that the company had recognized the risk of thermal expansion of crude oil and subsequent pressure increase but had depended on a manual system of draining the pipeline instead of installing engineering controls.
Beware of thermal expansion of liquids trapped in pipelines! Read the press release in this link.

July 6, 2011

Chemical dosing and storage systems

In many plants that I visit, I observe that many operators of chemical storage tanks and dosing systems do not follow certain basic precautions for avoiding incidents. Greg Humm of West Yost associates has a good presentation on the basic safety requirements for chemical storage and dosing systems.This is applicable for all industries including water treatment. See the presentation in this link. (PDF file - be patient!)

Managing risk in the chemical industry

With strategies of chemical companies always evolving to changing circumstances, I often find that "de-risking" strategies are often applied from a purely financial point of view rather than a combination of financial and process safety risks. In chemical industries, process safety risks need to be carefully studied and evaluated, as a single process incident could wipe out all the gains that you had obtained by de-risking purely from a financial point of view. Similarly, during mergers and acquisitions of chemical companies, process safety risks need to be carefully evaluated. It may cost you more if you do not heed process safety risks.
See BASF's approach to managing process safety risks in this link.

July 2, 2011

Operational excellence - an example

Chevron's tenets of operation is an excellent example of what process safety management should be! Their tenets, which I am quoting from this link in their website are

  1. "Always operate within design and environmental limits.
  2. Always operate in a safe and controlled condition.
  3. Always ensure safety devices are in place and functioning.
  4. Always follow safe work practices and procedures.
  5. Always meet or exceed customers’ requirements.
  6. Always maintain integrity of dedicated systems.
  7. Always comply with all applicable rules and regulations.
  8. Always address abnormal conditions.
  9. Always follow written procedures for high-risk or unusual situations.
  10. Always involve the right people in decisions that affect procedures and equipment".
I specially like the  last tenet. I see many companies NOT involving the right people in decisions that affect procedures and equipment.

Emergency headcounts

During a trip to Singapore, I saw an interesting LCD display outside a very large shop with many entrances and exits. This signage is posted at all entries. It warns  visitors that it is unsafe to enter when monitor turns red! (Approved load is 431).