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DuPont overlooked hazards in fatal welding blast, claims CSB

25 April 2012

DuPont failed to require monitoring of the interior of storage tanks at its Yerkes plant on which hot work was to be performed, according to a draft report from the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) released on April 19. This failure was the primary reason for an explosion that killed one and injured another contract welder on November 9, 2010, at the plant in Buffalo, New York State.

The blast at DuPont's Yerkes plant in Buffalo killed one welder and injured another
The blast at DuPont's Yerkes plant in Buffalo killed one welder and injured another

CSB determined the explosion was caused by the ignition of flammable vinyl fluoride inside a large process tank, a hazard that was overlooked by DuPont engineers. The CSB found that that sparks or heat from the welding, which took place on top of the tank, most likely ignited the vapour. A proposed recommendation urges DuPont to require monitoring the inside of storage tanks before performing any hot work, which is defined as welding, cutting, grinding or other spark-producing activities.

“Safety is a core value at DuPont. It is based on our commitment to the idea that all accidents are preventable,” said Ronald A. Lee, plant manager at DuPont Yerkes. “So, it's our objective to ensure that an incident like the one never happens again.”

He said DuPont conducted an exhaustive investigation of the Nov. 9, 2010 incident and cooperated fully with the Chemical Safety Board throughout its investigation. “Many of the agency's recommendations are closely aligned with the results of our own investigation and have been implemented. Overall, the Yerkes site has made numerous improvements in the past 18 months and has – to date – worked almost 500 consecutive days without an event-related injury,” Lee added.

A CSB 11-minute safety video entitled, "Hot Work: Hidden Hazards," uses computer animation to depict the sequence of events leading to the tragedy, is available on CSB’s website.

The CSB earlier found the lack of safe equipment design, ineffective mechanical integrity programs and a failure to investigate near misses contributed to a series of three accidents that occurred on January 22 and 23, 2010, at DuPont’s Belle, West Virginia, chemical manufacturing plant. The final accident caused the release of deadly phosgene gas, which resulted in the death of a worker.




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