Sunday, June 30, 2013

Fertilizer Plant Explosion Investigators Report Lax Regulation of Chemicals

"...had no sprinkler systems, stored the chemical in wooden bins and did not report to local emergency responders the potential hazards of storing tons of ammonium nitrate because the law does not require them to do so..."

Fertilizer Plant Explosion Investigators Report Lax Regulation of Chemicals

HOUSTON (AP) — A federal agency investigating a deadly explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant will tell a Senate committee Thursday that regulation of the dangerous chemicals used in the industry fall under a "patchwork" of standards that are decades old and are far weaker than rules used by other countries.

The damage from the fertilizer plant explosion is seen from helicopters in accompanying President Barack Obama in West, Texas, in this April 25, 2013 file photo. The U.S Chemical Safety Board will tell a Senate committee Thursday June 27, 2013 that regulation of the dangerous chemicals used in the industry fall under a “patchwork” of standards that are decades old and are far weaker than rules used by other countries. The findings will be presented to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
The U.S Chemical Safety Board is the first federal agency to acknowledge the lax oversight of ammonium nitrate, the chemical blamed for an explosion in West so massive that it registered as a small earthquake, flattened swaths of the small town and killed 15 people. The agency, one of several investigating the April incident, made 18 recommendations in a preliminary report obtained by The Associated Press. The findings will be presented to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

The West Fertilizer Co. had no sprinkler systems, stored the chemical in wooden bins and did not report to local emergency responders the potential hazards of storing tons of ammonium nitrate because the law does not require them to do so, the report states. Firefighters are given only vague guidelines on how to battle a blaze involving ammonium nitrate — a chemical often used as a cheap alternative to dynamite in mining operations that has been used in terrorist bomb attacks.

The volunteer firefighters who arrived at the plant "were not made aware of the explosion hazard of ammonium nitrate ... and were caught in harm's way when the blast occurred," the report says. Of the 15 people killed, 10 were firefighters, and two others were residents who tried to help them battle the massive blaze.

"To summarize, the safety of ammonium nitrate fertilizer storage falls under a patchwork of U.S. regulatory standards and guidance — a patchwork that has many large holes," according to the report that will be presented by Rafael Moure-Eraso, the board's chairman.
The agency notes that in 1985, a comprehensive review of ammonium nitrate's dangers stated it should not be stored near a source of heat or combustible materials.

"As simple as this sounds, this principle has not been fully adopted across the U.S., and was not implemented at West Fertilizer," Moure-Eraso will tell the panel.

The Chemical Safety Board does not have regulatory authority, but its scientists probe accidents and make recommendations on how they can be avoided in the future. It is involved in a variety of other investigations, including the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
In 2002, the board recommended that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration add reactive chemicals, such as ammonium nitrate, to the list of substances they regulate. That never happened, and the risk management plan that the West Fertilizer Co. was required by federal law to fill out did not address ammonium nitrate. Instead, it focused exclusively on the potential for aleak of anhydrous ammonia, another fertilizer chemical it stored and sold.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has rules for how ammonium nitrate can be used as an explosive, but those rules do not apply to fertilizer plants. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's regulations are meant to ensure the chemical does not land in the hands of criminals or militants.

As a result, the board found, ammonium nitrate — the chemical used in the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City — is not truly regulated by any agency.

Codes written by the National Fire Protection Association are also not strong enough, the board states. For example, the codes allow the chemical to be stored in wooden bins, even though other countries, including the United Kingdom, instruct the chemical should be placed in non-flammable containers, preferably concrete.

Either way, West Fertilizer was not required to comply with the fire code. The National Fire Protection Association's codes are merely recommendations. Texas has not adopted a statewide fire code, and some smaller counties are prohibited by state law from adopting their own.

Federal agencies must "review and improve the comprehensive safety oversight of ammonium nitrate fertilizer distribution. The time for that effort is now," the board concludes.
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Friday, June 28, 2013

How Can Manufacturers Reduce the Risk of Dust Fires and Explosions?

 From our friends at ThomasNet.

How Can Manufacturers Reduce the Risk of Dust Fires and Explosions?

How Can Manufacturers Reduce the Risk of Dust Fires and Explosions?
 “If your facility generates dust — any kind of dust — consider it combustible until proven otherwise,” John Astad, founder of the Combustible Dust Policy Institute, told IMT.

In 2012, Astad’s institute reported results from a preliminary analysis of 2011 National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) data obtained from the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA). The report detailed 500-plus combustible-dust-related fires and explosions in many industrial sectors throughout the U.S. The majority of incidents were classified as “near-misses,” meaning they did not result in injuries or fatalities. NFIRS is a voluntary service in many states and not all fires are reported to the system.

The Occupational Health and Safety magazine reports that, although small dust-related fires might be the norm for some manufacturers, flames that don’t lead to deadly explosions or flash fires should be considered near-misses. Incidents are rarely reported to state and federal agencies because, aside from random inspections, the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) only investigates incidents that involve fatalities or extensive injuries.

According to a 2006 study by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), there were 281 combustible dust incidents between 1980 and 2005 that killed 119 workers and injured another 718.

Astad says the number from the CSB is much too low and combustible dust fires and explosions are a significantly bigger problem. In addition, his center’s analysis does not include many incidents that were not reported by fire departments to the USFA’s National Fire Data Center. Therefore, he contends that there are many more combustible-dust-related incidents that cannot be evaluated in determining whether they were near-misses or not.

According to an OSHA fact sheet, in many combustible dust accidents, employers and employees were unaware that a hazard even existed.

Jeffrey C. Nichols, managing partner of Industrial Fire Prevention LLC, a consulting and service company specializing is helping manufacturers reduce the risk of fires, explained to IMT that dust fires occur when three components of the fire triangle exist:
  1. Combustible dust (fuel)
  2. Ignition source (heat)
  3. Oxygen in air (oxidizer)
Nichols said, “Once you understand the fire triangle, you start to see where the fires can occur. Anytime there’s a moving part, a spinning part, a turning part, you’ll find something that’s creating combustible dust as well as friction,” the latter of which can become an ignition source. He also pointed out that human error and any mechanical machinery prone to breakdowns are potential causes for fire.

OSHA distinguishes the conditions that make a dust fire versus a dust explosion. Like a dust fire, an explosion occurs when there is fuel and oxygen. However, the ignition source may be something other than heat, such as static electricity. In addition, the dust must be dispersed into the air, while also being confined to vessel, room, or other enclosure. explains that dust explosions can occur “as a series.” For example, an initial explosion can damage equipment or preventative systems such as a dust collection unit. This can knock loose additional dust that leads to a larger, secondary explosion.
Preventing combustible dust explosions requires controlling the dust itself and potential ignition sources.

“Control of the hazard requires constant vigilance and constantly effective maintenance,” Len Welsh, chief of safety for the State Compensation Insurance Fund of California, the largest provider of workers’ compensation insurance in California, told IMT. and State Fund have the following recommendations for manufacturers:
  • Install dust collection systems and filters to prevent explosions by removing dust from the air. Dust collectors should be hooked up outdoors or in a separate room.
  • Lay out a facility so that machines with dust explosion hazards are enclosed or facing away from populated work areas to minimize the fire and energy impact if there is an explosion.
  • Utilize surfaces that minimize dust accumulation and facilitate cleaning.
  • Clean dust residue regularly. Before cleaning, shut down all flame and ignition sources. Use a cleaning method that does not generate dust clouds (i.e., vacuuming instead of blowing). Establish a routine cleaning schedule to remove dust from floors, ledges, beams, equipment, and other surfaces. Clean often enough to prevent dust buildup.
  • Ensure that electrical wiring and equipment located in areas containing combustible dust are rated for use in Class II locations.
  • Control static electricity sources as it is a serious explosion and fire ignition source. Grounding can help prevent this. Operate, service, and maintain equipment to ensure that the proper grounding is in place.
  • Control potential heated surfaces, such as exhaust systems of mobile equipment, including forklifts.
Specific standards that deal with the prevention of combustible dust explosions are published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

OSHA continues to work toward a combustible dust standard. In the absence of a final rule, the agency offers guidance and information on its website.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

OSHA Combustible Dust Resources

combustible dust - USDOL OSHA Public Web Site Search Results

Combustible Dust - An Explosion Hazard

Any combustible material can burn rapidly when in a finely divided form. If such a dust is suspended in air in the right concentration, under certain conditions ...


Combustible Dust in Industry: Preventing and Mitigating the ...

Additional Elements Needed for a Combustible Dust Explosion: 4. Dispersion of dust particles in sufficient quantity and concentration; and, 5.


[PDF] Combustible Dust

combustible dust locations. PreventionMeasures The facility has separator devices to remove foreign materials capable of igniting combustible dusts.


Combustible Dust - An Explosion Hazard - Occupational Safety and ...

OSHA Guidance. The following OSHA publications contain voluntary guidelines for employers and employees. The first is a short hazard alert with basic information.


Combustible Dust - An Explosion Hazard

OSHA Standards. The following Federal OSHA standards are mandatory; they include provisions that address certain aspects of combustible dust hazards.


CPL 03-00-008 - Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program (Reissued)

(Note: CSHOs knowledgeable in recognition and control of combustible dust hazards and familiar with NFPA provisions need not undergo the training at OTI).


Combustible Dust - An Explosion Hazard - Occupational Safety and ...

Consensus Standards. These standards are NOT OSHA regulations. However, they do provide guidance from their originating organizations related to worker protection.


Safety and Health Topics: Combustible Dust - Additional Information

Dust collectors are responsible for half of the combustible dust hazards at facilities; the other half is predominantly a matter of good housekeeping.


OSHA Publications - Combustible Dust - Occupational Safety and ...

Nail Salon Workers: Stay Healthy and Safe While Giving Manicures and Pedicures (OSHA 3542 - 2012) (English: PDF) (OSHA 3560 - 2012) (Spanish: PDF) (OSHA 3558 - 2012)


Combustible Dust NEP Status Report - October 2009

10/2009 Status Report on Combustible Dust NEP ... Background Fires and explosions fueled by combustible dusts have long been recognized as a major industrial hazard.

Additional OSHA Resources

IFP Blog Combustible Dust Articles