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Inadequate training caused propane explosion

31 October 2008

The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has concluded that inadequate propane technician and emergency responder training and unsafe propane tank placement were the primary causes of a fatal accident in January 2007 at the Little General convenience store in Ghent, West Virginia.
The propane explosion on January 30, 2007, killed two emergency response workers and two propane technicians. Six others were injured.

The accident occurred as a junior propane technician, who had not been formally trained and had been on the job only one-and-a-half months, prepared to transfer about 350 gallons of propane from an old 500-gallon tank to a new tank. Propane was released from the old tank's liquid withdrawal valve after the technician removed a safety plug from the valve. The CSB later determined the valve had a manufacturing defect that caused it to be stuck in an open position.

All of the victims had remained in the immediate vicinity of a propane release from a storage tank behind the store and did not evacuate the area. The store, which was levelled in the explosion, was located in rural West Virginia about 70 miles south of Charleston.

The draft report calls on the state of West Virginia to provide annual hazardous materials training and drills for all fire-fighters and recommends improved training for propane service technicians throughout the country. CSB also determined that, probably because of a lack of training, the technician likely did not observe a telltale sign that the valve was defective: the safety plug has a small hole through which propane may be seen leaking if the valve is stuck open, before the plug is fully removed.
CSB also found that West Virginia and 35 other US states have no requirements for training or qualification of propane technicians.

Barton Solvents
In another inquiry, CSB has determined that a static electrical spark resulting from inadequate electrical bonding and grounding caused a fire and series of explosions at the Barton Solvents Des Moines chemical distribution facility in October 2007. The event occurred during the filling of a portable steel tank.

One employee received minor injuries and one firefighter was treated for a heat-related illness in the accident. The main warehouse structure was destroyed and Barton's business was significantly interrupted. The accident occurred about three months after another explosion and fire that destroyed a Barton Solvents facility in Wichita, Kansas. The CSB also attributed that accident to static sparks and lack of bonding and grounding.

CSB Chairman and CEO John Bresland said: “These accidents show the need for companies to address the hazards associated with static electricity and flammable liquid transfer.”

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