Hot work on tanks containing biological or organic material

Published:  27 August, 2014

Chemical Safety Board issues warning following tank explosion which killed a worker at the Omega Protein facility in Moss Point, Mississippi, on July 28, 2014.

CSB investigators found that the incident occurred during hot work on or near a tank containing eight inches of a slurry of water and fish matter known as “stickwater.”

Chairman Moure-Eraso explained: ‘The explosion blew the lid off the 30-foot-high tank, fatally injuring a contract worker who was on top of the tank. A second contract worker on the tank was severely injured. CSB investigators commissioned laboratory testing of the stickwater and found telltale signs of microbial activity in the samples, such as the presence of volatile fatty acids in the liquid samples and offgassing of flammable methane and hydrogen sulfide.

‘The stickwater inside of the storage tank had been thought to be nonhazardous. No combustible gas testing was done on the contents of the tank before the hot work commenced.

‘This tragedy underscores the extreme importance of careful hot work planning, hazard evaluation, and procedures for all storage tanks, whether or not flammable material is expected to be present. Hot work dangers are not limited to the oil, gas, and chemical sectors where flammability hazards are commonplace.

‘The CSB has now examined three serious hot work incidents—all with fatalities—involving hot work on tanks of biological or organic matter.’

The CSB Chairperson urges all companies to follow the positive example set by the DuPont Corporation, after a fatal hot work tragedy occurred at a DuPont chemical site near Buffalo, New York. ‘Following CSB recommendations from 2012, DuPont instituted a series of reforms to hot work safety practices on a global basis, including requirements for combustible gas monitoring when planning for welding or other hot work on or near storage tanks or adjacent spaces.’

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