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CSB report into fatal 2011 Hawaii firework explosion and fire highlights unsafe disposal practices

21 January 2013

The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) said 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 draft document recommends that federal agencies develop a new government-wide safety and environmental responsibility requirement for contractors, and calls for new regulations on the safe disposal of fireworks, a growing problem across the US.

The April 8, 2011, accident occurred as employees of Donaldson Enterprises sought shelter from rain inside a tunnel-like magazine located at Waikele Self Storage in Waipahu, Hawaii, near Honolulu.  The storage facility contained government-confiscated illegally labeled fireworks, which the workers had been dismantling under a subcontract to a federal prime contract. 

A large explosion and fire fatally injured all five workers inside the magazine.  One worker, who had been standing outside the magazine entrance door, escaped with injuries.

CSB Chairman Dr. Rafael Moure-Eraso said, "Our 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. While fireworks provide entertainment for millions, the disposal of unused fireworks creates enormous hazards for workers because, we were surprised to find, there are no guidelines to do the work."

The CSB found a lack of regulations or industry standards addressing fireworks disposal. The report notes that OSHA's Process Safety Management (PSM) standard applies to fireworks manufacturing, but not to fireworks disposal work. 

The draft report also urged the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which regulates fireworks in the U.S., to participate with the NFPA in developing guidance on the safe disposal of fireworks.

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