Trish And Traci Podcast Hero 63a46f39029fc

Podcast: Lessons Learned From 2022 Process-Safety Incidents

Dec. 23, 2022
Turning tragedy into tools to help avoid future catastrophes will help keep workers safe.


Traci: Welcome to Process Safety with Trish and Traci, the podcast that aims to share insights from past incidents to help avoid future events. I'm Traci Purdum, editor-in-chief of Chemical Processing, and as always, I'm joined by Trish Kerin, the director of the IChemE Safety Centre. Hey, Trish, what's new in your world?

Trish: Well, it's a wind-down to Christmas, but that never seems to get any easier or less busy, I think. It's very hectic. I'm about to go on vacation, so I'm looking forward to a nice break and then getting back into process safety again in 2023. How about you, Traci?

Traci: Same, getting ready for the holidays. It's been a hectic year, and I think the older we get, the faster it moves, so... Every time we come to the end of the year; it always amazes me. As we look toward 2023, it's a good time to reflect on some of the safety incidents of 2022. Fires, explosions leaks, and fatal accidents... There's a lot of ground to cover. So, I guess we can just maybe attack this chronologically. And let's start with an incident that occurred on January 14th at a Qualco chemical plant in New Jersey. A supplier of chlorine tablets and water clarifiers, that has housed as much as 3 million pounds of chemicals on site. News stories state that this facility was not required to register its stockpile with the federal government or develop a special safety plan. Can you give us a little bit of insight into this incident?

Trish: Yeah. So this one was particularly concerning when you think about just how many different chemicals they had on-site and then realized that the way the law is written, they didn't need to register with the EPA for a risk management plan. That's quite concerning because you then wonder how many more of these are out there. From a process safety perspective, an incident like this has enormous ramifications for the business. The property damage, potentially people being made sick by this, or in a worse case killed, there was no one killed in this incident though, which was great, but enormous business interruption. Good process safety means you don't end up having fires like this, which means you don't have damage to deal with, have disruption to your business... You can have a lot more productivity when you have good reliability in your organization. Even though it wasn't required to register an RMP and have a safety plan in process, it really should have been.

I think for me, one of the key lessons of this one is it makes business sense to run your business safely. It saves you money and it makes you money in the long run. Whether you're required by law to have an RMP or follow certain other requirements, it's always good to look at what your risk is and how you can effectively manage it, so you don't end up having an incident like this, which causes all sorts of issues for your business continuity. Also, important to remember, emergency response plans and planning activities, making sure your local fire brigade knows what you've got on-site and knows how to deal with it in the event of a fire so that they can mitigate the consequences. If they don't know what's there, they can't effectively fight it. That fire's going to go on for a lot longer, it could be made worse if they don't know what's there and treat it with the wrong sort of firefighting equipment, and it could also result in injury or fatality of firefighters as well. None of which is acceptable.

Traci: You may not have the answer to this, and I doubt you would have the answer to this, but will they be required from here on out to have that type of information? What happens in these types of incidents?

Trish: I don't know. I don't know specifically what the EPAs laws say, in terms of what determines who must do an RMP, whether it's based on the type of chemical or volume of chemical... Off the top of my head, I don't know that detail of the law. But one would assume if they weren't required to previously, then why would they be required to going forward, just because they've had an incident if the law didn't require it to start with? So, it's quite possible that they still won't require it, but that doesn't mean it's not good business sense to have your plans in place to understand your risk and put in place controls to prevent or mitigate an incident.

Traci: The next incident on our list here happened on April 12th in India. Unfortunately, six people were killed, and several others injured, in a huge fire and reactor blast in a chemical factory. Can you give us a little bit more on this incident that happened?

Trish: Yeah, so I did a little bit of reading on this one. It appeared to be in a pharmaceutical facility, and initially, the reports are that there was a gas leak from a boiler, which then exploded and triggered the subsequent events that took place. And so I think from my perspective here, the key learning is often we don't put a lot of focus on managing the utility parts of our facilities. The boilers, the water treatment, those sorts of things. But they can be involved in and/or cause significant catastrophic events. Boilers, by their very definition, use some combustible fuel or flammable fuel to create high-pressure steam or superheated steam. There's a fuel source going in that if we have that leak, it can ignite, and that's just like having any other hydrocarbon leak ignite.

Coupled with this, we are dealing with high-pressure steam, which contains an enormous amount of energy, and if that energy is released in an uncontained way, you can have a catastrophic outcome from that [inaudible 00:05:44] as well. My reminder to people is to take a look at your utility systems, are you managing the risks associated with those to an appropriate level compared to the risks associated with your processing plant? Where you're probably used to handling flammable substances and high pressures and high temperatures. But we often neglect the boilers, and the chemicals used in water treatment as well can be quite hazardous under certain circumstances. So go take a look at your utilities into the new year and make sure you've got the risks managed appropriately for those as well.

Traci: That's good advice and something that people just don't think about, they don't consider those types of things... So very good advice and lessons learned from this incident. In another incident on May 24th, a Lanxess plant in South Carolina leaked toxic phosphorous trichloride gas. While this wasn't a major incident, a local senator who worked at the plant years ago, told the local newspaper about a 1991 explosion at the plant that killed nine workers. That incident led to the plant executing a public outreach program to calm resident concerns about the safety of the plant. But he says that hasn't been happening there lately. And this brings up the importance of community outreach, and I was wondering what your thoughts were on this incident and going forward, getting out to the community.

Trish: So for this incident, in particular, community outreach has been quite a significant impact here, because the residents were impacted, they needed to shelter as this cloud dissipated. Now, community-average programs can be very challenging and very uncomfortable to undertake, especially when an incident has occurred. But if you have positive outreach programs with your residents, then if an incident occurs, you are a couple of steps ahead when it comes to dealing with them and building a relationship, and building some trust with them. Having good positive relationships with your community is worth trying to achieve. And to achieve it, the only way to do it is actually to be open and honest with them. The community does not want to hear from your corporate spin doctors, the community want to hear from real people at the plant and they want to hear the truth.

They want to know what happened, what's going on, and what it means for them. And they are questions that we need to learn to be able to answer. I once was facility in charge of managing our community group and we had a positive relationship because we were open and transparent with them. And when we did have an incident, we contacted them and we invited them in and we had a conversation about it. And that could lead to some very uncomfortable moments when they gave you their opinion of your performance. But then at the end of it all, they thanked us for being honest and open with them and said they were looking forward to the next meeting, to catching up, and wished us a good day as they left it.

It didn't continue from there because we maintained a focus on being transparent with them. And I think the industry in general, we've lost our ability to be transparent with people because we are worried that they might get upset. Well, yes they might, and, if you've had an incident that's impacted them, they've got every right to be upset and we need to recognize that and address it and work with them proactively. Because we are part of the communities where we operate, and we want to be a valued part of the community, not a disliked part of the community.

Traci: And if they're going to get upset and they may as well get upset while you're also in the conversation to help assuage any kind of concerns, or at least answer questions about those concerns. Are there training manuals for outreach to the community or... You said that you were on a team, is there some sort of resource that companies can go to learn how to best communicate with their communities?

Trish: Look, the main resource I'm aware of that does have a focus on what's called community right-to-know, is the Responsible Care Program. So Responsible Care Program exists all over the world. I think the American Chemistry Council owns and roll it out within the United States, for example. Check out your Responsible Care Program, see what the requirements are for you as a responsible company operating in the chemical sector, for example, and take a look at the community right-to-now standard. It's got a lot of great information in there about what you should be doing to maintain a positive relationship and ensure that the community is informed of what they do have a right to know.

Traci: All right, thank you. On June 4th, there were explosions, plural, that occurred in chemical-filled containers at a BM Inland Container Depot in Bangladesh. Several dozens of people were killed, including firefighters, and hundreds of people were injured in this incident. Incorrect storage of chemicals also made the fire worse. Seems to be obvious lessons to be learned here, but can you give us a little bit more detail?

Trish: Yeah, so this was in the town of Chittagong in Bangladesh. Now, Chittagong is a heavily industrial area, there's a port there as well, and there's a lot of activity in terms of breaking up ships... A lot of that activity occurs in that town, and a lot of marine transport as well. So that's where you do have the containers, you've probably got a lot of products being imported and exported... A key element here, whenever you have a lot of products being moved, particularly in a transient way like that, at a port or a container storage depot, is the labeling, storage, and handling of hazardous chemicals.

The UN has an entire program, an entire standard on the labeling, storage, and handling of hazardous chemicals. And we need to make sure that we understand precisely what is in the different containers if we're working in a port situation where you have containers coming in from import and they're then being sent out to distributors. Labeling, the fire brigade needs to have an up-to-date manifest of what is on the facility at any point in time, if they are called to an emergency. Because they need to know what's there, otherwise they can't effectively fight that fire.

And so, I think this is an important reminder to make sure that you've got your labeling accurate, you're appropriately storing equipment, and so you've maintained separation distances between dissimilar chemicals, for example, and that you do have all of that process in place to safely communicate what is there. We've seen so many incidents that have occurred of container depots having a fire or an incident and not knowing what was in them at the time. One that immediately springs to mind is the massive incident that happened in Tianjin several years ago. If we don't know what's there, then we can't effectively fight the fire properly, so that's a key part. But also making sure that the storage and handling are done appropriately so that we don't end up with the fire activity happening in the first place, I think are some of the key lessons there.

And this was a tragedy with 41 people killed in this particular incident when the fire took place. The firemen weren't using the right medium to put the fire out because they didn't know what they were dealing with, they didn't have the information to tell them that they had hydrogen peroxide because that was mislabeled. So they used the wrong firefighting medium to handle hydrogen peroxide, for example. So these are some of the key learnings that really... Make sure you've got your labeling right, and your manifest is always up-to-date. And that again, you've engaged with your local fire brigade, the people that are going to come and help you if you have an incident, they need to know what you've got so they can best attack that fire safely.

Traci: Important stuff for sure. And our next podcast that you and I are doing, we're going to be talking to a first responder firefighter in the Chicago area, so maybe we can touch on that a little bit more in that future episode. Our next incident here happened in September on the 20th of September, an accidental release of flammable chemicals ignited, creating a fire that fatally injured two workers and resulted in substantial property damages at the BP Husky refinery in Oregon, Ohio. What are your thoughts on this incident?

Trish: Yeah, so this one was quite interesting and a doubly tragic fatality that occurred there, they were brothers. So one family lost two members that day when that incident happened. We need to try and understand what the cause was... Some of the latest reports I've seen are that there may have been a leak from the crude unit that was then ignited by another unit in the refinery. Keeping in mind there are a lot of parts of a refinery that run very hot, so if you do have a crude leak and it lands on a hot surface, you don't need a spark to ignite it, you just need to heat the crude beyond its autoignition temperature. Which depending on the crude you're dealing with, could be quite low in fact. We need to be aware of, in our facilities where leaks could occur, and if they did occur, where could they find the ignition source to cause the incident?

So this is where consequence modeling of your facilities is so important, to understand if a leak occurs, how big is it likely to be? And then, look at what ignition sources you've got in that area and how you can then try and mitigate that circumstance. As well as then, from a consequence perspective, what does an explosion or a fire look like? And we can model that very effectively as well now. So I think that's something that we need to start to look at in that space. I don't believe that refinery will be back up and operating again this year, from what I understand, so it'll be shut down and remain offline into next year, as they work through the various repairs for it.

Traci: And just so much at stake, loss of lives, and everything else that happens with it. That's just truly, truly catastrophic. The last incident that we're going to discuss is closer to you. In late October, parts of a major central Queensland, Australia power station went offline after a structural failure damaged two cells at a cooling plant. You mentioned this is the second major incident at this power station in the last two years. They overspend on a turbine in 2021, which then catastrophically failed. What can you tell us about this event?

Trish: So this incident happened in Outback Queensland, a town called Biloela. The cooling towers that they had there, the structural failure, literally the entire side of a cooling tower structure, have just completely collapsed. So we're looking at quite a significant asset integrity issue there. So around how do we make sure that we are focusing on understanding what state our equipment is in? Even something like a utility, a cooling tower. Again, I'm back to this utility thing, because we do often see incidents related to utilities. What were the integrity program on that particular cooling tower to make sure that there was still the structure required so that it could remain in operation and upright and functioning? So quite a substantial catastrophic failure occurred on that particular cooling tower. So they took out their C3 unit at the site. And as you mentioned before that, back in 2021, they overspend their turbine in the C4 unit, and it caught fire when it catastrophically exploded.

Now, fortunately, at the time, they realized what was going on and they had evacuated their turbine hall. So there was nobody injured in that particular turbine incident, that had happened the year before. But part of that was possibly only lucky because after the event when they went around and inspected the site, they found some shrapnel from the turbine had landed in one of the site's evacuation zones. Now everybody had evacuated to the other one that day, fortunately. So really understanding, again, where you have large rotating equipment in your facility if it's going to have a catastrophic Overspeed and fail, understand where the shrapnel's likely to go. The assumption was that it would go out centrifugally from the axis, but in fact, some of the shrapnel traveled along the line of the axis and went out longitudinally from them as well.

So really trying to make sure that we know where damages are likely to hit so that we can make sure we do protect our people in that particular instance. The structural collapse of a timber-type cooling tower, timber cooling towers need a lot of maintenance because the timber does rot and starts to lose its structural integrity. So we do need to make sure that we are doing the regular inspections. In my career, I've even actually seen timber cooling towers on fire whilst still operating and flowing with water, so you can even burn them down, in certain circumstances. It can occur. So again, focusing on the utilities in your facility is a really important thing, including their asset integrity of them.

Traci: Well Trish, thank you for helping us look at these horrific safety incidents, but being able to extract some lessons learned and help the future facilities, hopefully, avoid these types of incidents. I appreciate the time that you put into researching all of this for us. Unfortunate events happen all over the world and we will be here to discuss and learn from them. Subscribe to this free podcast so you can stay on top of best practices. On behalf of Trish, I'm Traci, and this is Process Safety with Trish and Traci.

Trish: Stay safe.

About the Author

Traci Purdum | Editor-in-Chief

Traci Purdum, an award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering manufacturing and management issues, is a graduate of the Kent State University School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Kent, Ohio, and an alumnus of the Wharton Seminar for Business Journalists, Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Sponsored Recommendations

Keys to Improving Safety in Chemical Processes (PDF)

Many facilities handle dangerous processes and products on a daily basis. Keeping everything under control demands well-trained people working with the best equipment.

Comprehensive Compressed Air Assessments: The 5-Step Process

A comprehensive compressed air audit will identify energy savings in an air system. This paper defines the 5 steps necessary for an effective air audit.

Get Hands-On Training in Emerson's Interactive Plant Environment

Enhance the training experience and increase retention by training hands-on in Emerson's Interactive Plant Environment. Build skills here so you have them where and when it matters...

Managing and Reducing Methane Emission in Upstream Oil & Gas

Measurement Instrumentation for reducing emissions, improving efficiency and ensuring safety.