What’s It Going to Take?

The ASM Consortium, and the Center for Chemical Process Safety, ISA, the IEC and other organizations have been out beating the drum for increased operator training and improved alarm management and human-machine-interfaces.

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By Walt Boyes, Editor in Chief

The explosion that destroyed the ICL plastics plant in Glasgow, Scotland, on May 11, 2004, was caused by an LPG line that leaked into a basement being used as a storage locker by a contractor. He was killed along with several other workers when he went into the basement and flipped on the light or something.

How in the name of anything did that happen?

It went down like this. The son of then-ICL Tech managing director, Frank Stott, was hired as a co-op student for a holiday job and given the responsibility of inspecting the pipeline. He didn’t see anything major wrong. Of course, he likely didn’t know what to look for, and ICL had not availed itself of any of the corrosion monitoring technologies on the market either.

The HSE (U.K. Health and Safety Executive– similar to OSHA in the USA) had told ICL that they should take care of the corrosion in the line, but that it was not essential to replace the pipeline, which was installed without any corrosion protection. So the HSE fined ICL about $60,000 per dead person, and let them keep right on operating.

In 1999, three people were killed when the Olympic pipeline in Bellingham, Wash., ruptured. To paraphrase the NTSB’s conclusions about the causes of the accident, the rupture occurred because of:

  • Damage to the pipe;
  • Olympic Pipe Line Company’s inadequate inspection;
  • Inaccurate evaluation of in-line pipeine inspection results, which led to the company’s decision not to excavate and examine the damaged section of pipe; 
  • Failure to test, under approximate operating conditions, all safety devices associated with the Bayview products facility before activating it;
  • Failure to investigate and correct the conditions leading to the repeated unintended closing of the Bayview inlet block valve;
  • The practice of performing database development work on the supervisory control and data acquisition system while it was being used to operate the pipeline, leading to the system’s becoming non-responsive at a critical time during operations.

The ASM Consortium, and the Center for Chemical Process Safety, ISA, the IEC and other organizations have been out beating the drum for increased operator training and improved alarm management and human-machine-interfaces for decades now. The National Electrical Code and the National Fire Protection Association standards reflect many of these improvements, and still the accidents keep right on happening.

In the Bellingham case, note that this was a cyber incident, not just a damaged pipe incident.

These incidents just keep on happening. One death, two deaths, three deaths, sixteen deaths. And that’s not counting the injuries from these incidents, or the injuries from incidents where nobody died.

What’s interesting about the aftermath reports on these accidents is that in hindsight they were all easily preventable. So why weren’t they? You tell me.

Just when are we going to get our act together and stop killing people?

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