CSB releases safety video about 2013 explosion at Geismar, La., plant

The US Chemical Safety Board issued a 12-min safety video about its investigation into a 2013 fire and explosion at the Williams olefins plant in Geismar, La., that killed 2 workers and injured 167 others. The accident occurred when a heat exchanger containing flammable liquid propane violently ruptured, CSB said.

The US Chemical Safety Board issued a 12-min safety video about its investigation into a 2013 fire and explosion at the Williams olefins plant in Geismar, La., that killed 2 workers and injured 167 others. The accident occurred when a heat exchanger containing flammable liquid propane violently ruptured, CSB said.

The board’s investigation concluded that in the 12 years leading to the incident, a series of process safety management program deficiencies left the heat exchanger unprotected from overpressure. During that time, Management of Change Reviews, Pre-Startup Safety Reviews, and Process Hazard Analyses all failed to effectively identify and control the hazard, it said.

In addition, CSB found that Williams failed to develop a written procedure for activities performed on the day of the incident, and did not have a routine maintenance schedule to prevent the operational heat exchanger from needing to be shut down for cleaning.

“Our investigation on the explosion at Williams describes an ineffective process safety management program at the plant at the time of the incident,” CSB Chair Vanessa Allen Sutherland said. “We urge other companies to incorporate our recommendations at their facilities and to assess the state of their cultures to promote safety at all organizational levels to prevent a similar accident.”

The safety video includes a 3D animation of the explosion and fire as well as interviews with CSB investigator Lauren Grim and Sutherland. “When evaluating overpressure protection requirements for heat exchangers, engineers must think about how to manage potential scenarios, including unintentional hazards,” Grim said in the video. “In this case, simply having a pressure relief valve available could have prevented the explosion.”

CSB recommended that the Williams Geismar plant’s operators:

• Conduct safety culture assessments that involve workforce participation and communicate the results in reports that recommend specific actions to address safety culture weaknesses.

• Develop a robust safety indicators tracking program that uses the data identified to drive continual safety improvement.

• Perform comprehensive process safety program assessments to thoroughly evaluate the effectiveness of the facility’s process safety programs.

Williams Partners LP announced last fall that it has initiated an adviser-led process to explore the monetization of its indirect ownership interest in the recently rebuilt and expanded Geismar olefins plant and complex (OGJ Online, Sept. 9, 2016).

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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