The Risk Management Tool Box Blog

International Code Council Launches New Fire Code

Graham Marshall - Thursday, March 06, 2014

Following the death's of six workers at the Kleen Energy Power Generation Facility in Middletown (Connecticut, USA), the International Code Council (ICC) has revised the International Fire Code (IFC) and International Fuel Gas Code (IFGC) to prohibit the unsafe practice of "gas blows"; in which flammable gas is blown under high-pressure down newly-constructed or repaired piping in an effort to clean and remove debris from the pipes prior to start-up.

The process of "gas-blowing" is inherently unsafe.

At the Kleen Energy facility, the high pressure gas blow was used to clean pipes prior to the start up of generator turbines; but the gas found an ignition source; and the six workers were killed in the subsequent huge explosion.

Alternative non-flammable gases are safe to use in "gas blowing" scenario's, including compressed air, so there is no need to use flammable gases.

Over 40 Countries, including the USA subscribe to the ICC codes.

Environment Agency Incident Hotline

Graham Marshall - Friday, February 07, 2014
The UKs Environment Agency has a new Incident Hotline for members of the public to report pollution incidents that they may see.  The new number is 0800 807060.

Risk of Being Hit by Space Debris

Graham Marshall - Sunday, November 10, 2013

The recent loss of the European Space Agency's Gravity Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) Satellite peaked my interest regarding the relative risk to people from falling space debris.

The GOCE satellite crashed to Earth on the 27th October in 40-50 fragments after its fuel supply ran out.

The 15-metre long satellite, weighing in around 250kgs was originally placed in a low Earth orbit about 160 miles above the Earth's surface.

The satellite was launch in 2009, but the exact location of where it would eventually crash was never known.

Most of the satellite was expected to burn up at an altitude of 50-miles, but at least a quarter of it's mass would survive re-entry and hit the ground over an area of "a few hundred kilometers" - according to France's National Centre for Space Studies.

Apparently, it is estimated that about 100 tonnes of man-made space debris re-enters the Earth's atmosphere from space every year.

Between 20-40 percent of the debris survives re-entry and strikes the Earth's surface.

But in 50-years of human space exploration, no one has been killed or injured by falling space junk.

The relative risk is around 1.5 million times lower than being killed in a domestic accident such as falling down the stairs.

Piper Alpha Workplace Involvement Day

Graham Marshall - Monday, June 03, 2013

To mark the 25th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster, Step Change in Safety and the UK HSE are jointly running a Workforce Involvement Day at the Aberdeen AECC on the 19th June 2013.

The event is free of charge.

The day will be driven by the workforce for the workforce and bring together 500 delegates to reflect on the tragedy, share the lessons learned and review how far offshore safety has evolved in the 25 years since Piper Alpha.

In particular it will focus on the industry’s commitment to workforce engagement and consider what each of us can do to play our part in the drive towards continuous improvement in offshore safety.

The full agenda for this event will be available on the Step Change website.

Offshore Oilwork Work Seven Times More Dangerous

Graham Marshall - Sunday, May 19, 2013
The chance of getting killed while working in the offshore oil and gas industry is seven times higher than for all workers in the United States, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of offshore fatal injuries between 2003 and 2010. 

It’s getting to work that is the most dangerous part of an offshore worker’s job, the study concluded: 65 of the 128 deaths during the seven-year period studied, or 51 percent, were attributed to transportation accidents.

And 49 of those involved helicopter accidents, all in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Transportation events (specifically helicopter crashes) were the most frequent fatal event in this industry.

The study also points out that since the adoption of new technology in late 2009 that uses satellites to send weather and other emergency information to air traffic controllers and aircraft, no fatal weather-related helicopter crashes have occurred in connection with oil and gas operations. 

The Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast technology supplants the reliance of pilots and air traffic controllers on radar, which does not pick up low-flying aircraft, and traditional radio communications equipment, which have limited capabilities and are not effective in warning pilots of rapidly changing weather conditions.

The report also recommended that the oil and gas industry adopt aircraft operation guidelines developed by the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers that have more stringent safety requirements than Federal Aviation Administration rules.

Those guidelines recommend that pilots and passengers complete helicopter underwater escape training and wear life jackets during all flights over water. 

They also recommend that flotation gear be installed on helicopters that will automatically inflate when the vehicle hits water, and that such flotation gear must be capable of keeping the helicopter on the water’s surface. 

The guidelines also recommend that companies provide locator beams for pilots, passengers and life rafts, and that the rafts be mounted on the outside of the helicopters. 

The study said that the 128 fatalities in the study period represents an average 16 deaths per year, and estimated that the fatality rate was seven times higher than for all U.S. workers, 27.1 deaths per 100,000 offshore workers versus 3.8 deaths per 100,000 workers nationwide. 

Workers directly employed in the oil and gas extraction industry accounted for 87, or two-thirds, of the deaths. 

Of those workers, 43 worked for well-servicing companies, 26 for drilling contractors, and 18 for oil and gas operators. 

The remainder of the deaths involved employees in another industry, including 24 in transportation and warehousing, 10 in construction, and eight in other industries. 

The researchers obtained their fatality data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Industries. 

An earlier report found that mechanical failures and bad weather were the most common reasons for helicopter crashes involving offshore operations in the Gulf between 1983 and 2009. 

That study found that aircraft flotation devices either failed to deploy or malfunctioned in 20 percent of nonfatal crashes. 

A separate study of Canadian civilian helicopter crashes into water found that drowning was the primary cause of death, and that use of life jackets by pilots and passengers was inconsistent.

Piper 25 Conference in Aberdeen, 18-20 June 2013

Graham Marshall - Thursday, March 28, 2013

Oil and Gas UK are holding a major offshore safety conference to mark the 25th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster.

Lord Cullen - who chaired the public inquiry into the disaster - has been confirmed as the keynote speaker, and HSE's Judith Hackitt and Steve Walker will also participate.

The Piper 25 Conference is designed to reflect, review, reinforce and re-energize safety efforts in the oil industry.

The three-day event is to be held at Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre from 18 to 20 June 2013.

It is aimed at bringing together people from across the oil and gas industry to reflect on the lessons learnt from the tragedy, review how far offshore safety has evolved since and to reinforce industry commitment to continuous improvement.

With Piper Alpha as a central theme, the conference will also explore broader safety issues and will feature high profile international speakers from a diverse range of backgrounds.

The full conference agenda will be announced in due course with the three days comprising of both plenary and parallel sessions allowing delegates to tailor their individual programmes to their own areas of expertise and interest.

Lord Cullen's report made 106 recommendations which have since transformed the way safety is managed offshore - to the point where the UK regime is now regarded as a global exemplar.

Whisky Distillary Fire

Graham Marshall - Sunday, March 03, 2013

Now this is what I call a real catastrophic disaster!

A court in Glasgow (Scotland) was told how two workers were filling whisky casks in a warehouse when a fire broke out causing the loss of more than 17,500 litres of the precious liquid.

The fire happened on 29 June 2011 when the men were on a metal walkway at the top levels of the warehouse using flexible hoses to fill 450-litre casks with whisky.

Having filled four casks, one worker turned to see a jet of whisky shooting up towards a ceiling light fitting above a fork lift truck.

The whisky hit the light fitting and a flame exploded over the forklift.

Both workers fled the warehouse, activating the fire alarm as they left.

Thousands of litres of the burning spirit poured down the racked casks and onto the forklift truck until the supplying pump was turned off about 15 minutes later.

The forklift truck was described as looking like 'a Christmas pudding once brandy is set alight'.

An investigation into the fire by the UK HSE found that the central aisle lights in the warehouse should not have been used in a flammable atmosphere and, had they been checked, they would have been identified as an ignition source trigger.

The investigation also highlighted that the filling equipment was not suitable for use to transfer a hazardous substance like alcohol at pressure.

Had the company taken the simple steps of checking the light fittings were suitable for use in a flammable atmosphere and that the equipment used to transfer the alcohol was fit for purpose this incident could have been prevented.


Deadly Contract - New CSB Video

Graham Marshall - Sunday, February 24, 2013

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has recently released a new safety video entitled “Deadly Contract” which highlights how an explosion and fire that killed five workers during a fireworks disposal operation in Hawaii in 2011 resulted from unsafe disposal practices; insufficient safety requirements for government contractor selection and oversight; and an absence of national guidelines, standards, and regulations for fireworks disposal.

The CSB is also calling for new regulations on the safe disposal of government-confiscated illegally labeled fireworks - a growing problem across the U.S.

The  accident occurred in April 2011, as employees of Donaldson Enterprises, Inc. (DEI) worked in a tunnel-like magazine located in Waipahu, Hawaii.

The storage facility contained government-confiscated illegally labeled fireworks, which the workers had been dismantling under a subcontract to a federal prime contract.

The CSB determined there was an accumulation of a large quantity of explosive components just inside the magazine entrance, creating the essential elements for a mass explosion.

A large explosion and fire fatally injured all five workers inside the magazine.

Another worker, who had been standing outside the magazine entrance door, escaped with injuries.

The CSB investigation found that company personnel had no specific expertise in fireworks disposal, that the company’s procedures were extremely unsafe, and that there are no national standards or accepted good practices for disposing of fireworks.

DEI was awarded the subcontract from a Federal Agency because it was a local company already storing the seized fireworks in the hillside facility, and its proposal was the lowest in cost and considered the most time-efficient.

However, despite DEI’s military ordnance background, the company had no experience with fireworks disposal.

DEI improvised a disposal plan that called for soaking the fireworks in diesel fuel and then burning them at a local shooting range

However, some fireworks were not burning, but exploding.

The company concluded that the diesel was not sufficiently penetrating the aerial shells and thus altered the procedure, disassembling the individual firework tubes and cutting slits in the aerial shells so the diesel could soak into the shells to reduce the explosion hazard during burning.

The process was further altered to speed up destruction of the next batch of confiscated fireworks in early 2011.

Workers were told to separate the black powder from the shells, accumulating them in separate boxes and dramatically increasing the explosion hazard, the CSB found.

The investigation found the company did not adequately analyze the potential hazards created by making these changes to the disposal plan.

Good process safety practice would have called for a thorough hazard analysis as well as a comprehensive review of the potential safety impacts of the proposed change.

Ethanol Tank Farm Fire

Graham Marshall - Tuesday, February 05, 2013

An ethanol storage tank fire at this plant in Ourinhos, Brazil is believed to have been started by a lightning strike. The tank contained five million liters of ethanol.

Almost 150 men from the plant's fire brigade with the support of the local Fire Department took almost 48 hours to bring the fire under control.

They used more than 10 million gallons of water, which equals one day of water consumption of a city with 100,000 inhabitants.

According to plant management, there are dozens of lightning protection towers in the area of the tank farm but the tank was struck during a heavy rain that hit the city last Sunday.

Preventing Fire on Cargo Planes

Graham Marshall - Monday, January 07, 2013

A United States federal investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) into the cause of three catastrophic cargo airplane fires concludes that current fire-protection systems aboard freight aircraft are inadequate.

In response, the NTSB recommends improvements and changes to current regulations.

NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman recommends:

1. Better early detection of fires inside cargo containers;

2. Development of fire-resistant containers; and

3. Requiring active fire-suppression systems on all cargo airlines.

The NTSB report focused on three cargo fire accidents since 2006.

In all three incidents, the fires started in the freight containers, but by the time the plane's fire warning system alerted pilots, there was no time for them to react.

Two of those fire incidents in Dubai and North Korea killed the flight crews which crashed.

In the third incident in Philadelphia, the crew escaped but the plane was significantly damaged.

All three fires grew rapidly out of control and left the flight crew with little time to get the aircraft on the ground.

It is obvious that better early detection, suppression and containment systems can give crews more time to land safely or to fight on-board fires before they get out of control.

At the moment, US federal regulations require cargo airline fire detection systems to alert pilots within one minute of a fire starting.

But the NTSB investigation found fire and smoke detection took from nearly three minutes to more than 18 minutes after the fire started.

The NTSB also found that cargo containers made of flammable materials significantly increase the intensity of the on-board fires.

Without regulation, there has been little focus by manufacturers to develop fire-resistant cargo containers.

Additionally, the NTSB's report recommended improved fire suppression systems on cargo planes, a recommendation it originally made to the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) in 2007.

After the 2007 recommendation, the FAA did a cost benefit analysis of upgrading fire suppression systems on cargo planes and found it to be too expensive,

But the two catastrophic cargo airplane fires that occurred in less than a year occurred after the FAA's cost benefit analysis concluded that the installation of fire suppression systems was not cost-effective.

FAA officials have now indicated they would carefully evaluate the NTSB's recommendations.

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