Fatal explosion hits BASF’s Ludwigshafen site | October 18, 2016 Issue - Vol. 94 Issue 42 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 94 Issue 42 | p. 13 | News of The Week
Issue Date: October 24, 2016 | Web Date: October 18, 2016

Fatal explosion hits BASF’s Ludwigshafen site

Two workers dead, one missing; 20 plants shut down or partially running
Department: Science & Technology
Keywords: Industrial safety, Germany
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A fire on Oct. 17 killed at least two at BASF’s Ludwigshafen site.
Credit: AFP
Photo of a fire at BASF’s site in Ludwigshafen, Germany.
 
A fire on Oct. 17 killed at least two at BASF’s Ludwigshafen site.
Credit: AFP

A huge explosion and fire at BASF’s Ludwigshafen, Germany, site—one of the world’s largest chemical complexes—killed three people. Eight other BASF staffers were seriously injured and 17 slightly injured from the fire, which broke out on the morning of Monday, Oct. 17.

The explosion and resultant fire occurred among pipelines that connect the firm’s harbor on the Rhine River to the Ludwigshafen complex. Maintenance work was being carried out on the pipelines, some of which carry ethylene and propylene, at the time of the explosion. The fire burned for more than 10 hours before it was extinguished.

BASF shut down the site’s two steam crackers and closed or reduced output from a further 18 or so other plants out of the roughly 110 production facilities at the site. BASF uses ethylene and propylene at the site to make a broad range of products including insulating materials, solvents, and paints.

“We are deeply saddened that employees have died and several have been injured. Our deepest sympathy lies with the affected people and their families,” site manager Uwe Liebelt said.

Another explosion occurred at BASF’s Lampertheim, Germany, plastics additives plant on the same morning. Four workers were injured. BASF says the cause of that incident is not yet known. Production at the plant has been suspended.

Process safety incidents at BASF occurred at a rate of 2.1 and 2.2 per million working hours in 2014 and 2015, respectively, according to the firm. Earlier this year there were deaths involving contractors at BASF sites in Brazil, South Korea, and Taiwan. Last year a BASF employee was killed in a fatal accident.

CEFIC, a European chemicals trade association, has pledged its full support to BASF. “Given the sheer scale of operations and people involved at such plants, unfortunately incidents can still happen from time to time,” Director General Marco Mensink says.


UPDATE: This story was updated on Oct. 24, 2016, to include additional information.

 
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Comments
Naushad Ahmad  (Wed Oct 19 12:55:45 EDT 2016)
Hi As I am also work before in Basf chemical company is very good company... feel sad to know about explosion...I want to join again if will get chance waiting for that...since 2014...
Mike Schmidt (Wed Oct 19 17:18:01 EDT 2016)
I teach a graduate level course on process safety at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, and this report touches on three topics we cover in the course.
First, BASF's plant in Ludwigshafen will be familiar, as it is the site of the first process disaster we study--the 1921 ammonium nitrate explosion that killed over 500 and finally convinced our industry that AN was dangerous. I'm sorry to see Ludwigshafen on the list of newsworthy process disasters once again.
Second, the report reinforces the trend we are seeing away from private fire brigades and toward full-time first responders that manage industrial fires rather than fighting them. The two fatalities in this incident were company firefighters. I don't know whether they were there to rescue other employees or to save assets. While our instinct is to call fallen firefighters heroes, if they were there to protect property, then sadly, they were just victims.
Finally, I am glad to see Director General Marco Mensink acknowledge that "incidents can still happen from time to time." The aphorism that safety professionals and others cling to, "All accidents are preventable," is at best aspirational and at worst, a rationale for seeking someone to blame for every bad thing that happens. If all accidents are preventable and an accident happens, then the obvious conclusion seems to be that someone should be blamed for failing to prevent it. I hope the investigation that is going to follow focuses on discovering ways to reduce the likelihood of similar events in the future, rather than on fixing blame for what has already happened.
alex scott (Tue Nov 01 04:50:33 EDT 2016)
great points.
Matthew (Tue Oct 25 03:48:53 EDT 2016)
Subtitle says "Two workers dead, one missing" meanwhile in the text: :"A huge explosion (...) killed three people. Another employee is missing." Which version is correct?
alex scott (Tue Nov 01 04:49:34 EDT 2016)
Hi Matthew, thank you for noting this. In the end there were 3 dead. This story was developing while we filed it.
Santosh Collison (Tue Oct 25 11:31:34 EDT 2016)
All investigative activities should be to find causes and improve safety plans. Trying to crucify someone or some entity should be avoided.
Doug Thompson (Tue Nov 01 14:32:04 EDT 2016)
Mike Schmidt said:
“… the report reinforces the trend we are seeing away from private fire brigades and toward full-time first responders that manage industrial fires rather than fighting them. The two fatalities in this incident were company firefighters. I don't know whether they were there to rescue other employees or to save assets. While our instinct is to call fallen firefighters heroes, if they were there to protect property, then sadly, they were just victims.”

1) The report (Oct. 24, 2016 version) does not provide any information about the first responders. Are you referring to some other report?

2) Any action taken to manage a fire acts to protect both human life AND property. I think that many would count a firefighter as a hero based on his willingness to risk his safety for the sake of others, regardless of whether the firefighter was specifically involved in a rescue operation.

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