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Lack of safety management system led to explosion

CSB releases a report on the 2016 explosion at an Airgas facility that killed one worker

by Jessica Morrison
April 21, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 17

A 2016 Airgas facility explosion that killed one worker reveals a gap in federal process safety requirements for facilities that manufacture hazardous substances, a new report says.

The plant in Cantonment, Fla., which makes nitrous oxide, was not in violation of federal regulations when the explosion happened, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) says in an investigation report released last week. OSHA and EPA regulations that require chemical facilities to have process safety management systems largely do not apply to facilities that manufacture nitrous oxide.

“Airgas lacked a safety management system to identify, evaluate, and control nitrous oxide process safety hazards, which led to the explosion,” CSB concludes.

“Since 1973, the nitrous oxide industry has averaged one major explosion about every seven years,” says CSB, an independent federal agency that investigates serious chemical accidents in the U.S. but does not regulate.

CSB says the explosion at the Airgas facility was most likely caused when a pump heated nitrous oxide above its safe operating limits during transfer from a holding tank to a transport tanker. But damage to the facility, minimal process data, and absence of a surviving eyewitness kept investigators from making a definitive determination.

Nitrous oxide manufacturing has not resumed at the facility. Airgas says it is implementing a process safety initiative for its nitrous oxide business.


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