Early reports from a federal investigation of a Kentucky chemical plant show that critical maintenance was set aside on one furnace that ultimately caused an explosion.
What’s more startling, however, is that other smaller, incidents were likely caused by similar oversight, The Associated Press reports.
According to the news source, the independent U.S. Chemical Safety Board released the earliest version of its report on Thursday, which detailed the facility explosion that killed two employees and injured two more on March 21, 2011. The accident took place in an area of Louisville known as Rubbertown, a highly industrial region.
“This accident is literally a case study into the tragic, predictable consequences of running equipment to failure even when repeated safety incidents over many years warn of impending failure,” said the agency’s chairman, Rafael Moure-Eraso.
The media outlet stated that the report found the blast likely occurred because of extremely high pressure in the company’s large electric arc furnace, which happened after water leaked into the factory component. The agency noted that the furnace was designed to heat products to about 3,800 degrees Fahrenheit, but after the water leaked into it, began to spit out molten calcium carbide, hot gases and other debris through a glass window in one of the control rooms.
This window, however, had been blown out before, and the investigation shows the company may not have properly outfitted the windows to prepare for such a blast again.
“When control room windows blew out during previous furnace incidents, the company merely reinforced them, rather than taking the safe course and moving the control room farther from the furnace and investigating why the smaller furnace over-pressure events were happening in the first place,” Moure-Eraso said, adding that this was a prime example of an abnormal event become a typical occurrence in every day operations.
According to WDRB News, the lead investigator on the project noted that the company had previously been issued 26 work orders to fix the water leaks in the furnace, “but the facility chose to continue operating,” the U.S. Chemical Safety Board official stated.
Keeping up with regular maintenance management programs can ensure asset uptime, and also keep all facilities workers safe.
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