No matter how many precautions a plant owner takes, there almost always exists the risk of a plant explosion. In fact, if you pay attention to the news and/or websites like DustSafetyScience.com, chances are you’ll hear about a plant explosion every few months or so. While plant explosions typically only injure workers, these accidents easily have the potential to be massively deadly.
Recent plant explosions
On May 19, 2018, 21 workers were injured in a fiery plant explosion at a Pasadena industrial plant. When the explosion occurred, there were about 270 workers inside. According to officials, the explosion at the Kuraray America EVAL facility, which is located on Choate and Bay Area Boulevard, occurred at 10:22 a.m. The plant explosion occurred as a result of a valve malfunction due to the over‐pressurization of the piping in the facility.
Crews immediately got to work to put out the fire. However, 19 workers were burned in the explosion and taken to local hospitals by ambulance. According to John Krueger, two more workers were airlifted to hospitals to receive care for their injuries. None of the 21 workers had life‐threatening injuries. No order was issued for sheltering in place.
After the plant explosion, there were reports that at least one worker was missing. However, Kuraray America reported that all of their workers were accounted for at the site. In a statement, Kuraray said, “The company is fully cooperating with all local authorities and emergency response teams and will provide additional information as it becomes available and is confirmed.” The plant remained shut down for a few days after the accident to enable the assessment of the damage.
How plant explosions can be prevented
While the fire explosion at the Pasenda industrial plant could have been far more tragic, this incident does raise questions about the steps that can and should be taken to prevent plant explosions. While the risk of a plant explosion cannot be eliminated entirely, plant owners can take precautions to reduce the risk significantly.
Don’t overlook combustible dust
Combustible dust is a major and deadly cause of explosions in a number of industries, such as food manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, chemical manufacturing, woodworking, and metalworking. The reason for this is that just about everything is combustible in dust form. This includes food, metals, dyes, and chemicals. Unfortunately, even though explosions caused by combustible dust are difficult to contain, the risk that they pose is frequently overlooked.17
Typically, combustible material will catch fire after coming into contact with an ignition source. While not all of these fires lead to plant explosions, the risk is high.
An explosion, fire, or even a single spark can ignites airborne dust, leading to a secondary explosion that is much larger and more severe. If there is enough combustible dust, secondary explosions can destroy entire faculties and cause massive damage and fatalities. The 2008 Georgia sugar refinery explosion is an example of the dangers that combustible dust can pose.
To prevent plant explosions, all personnel should be trained to understand the hazards associated with the work they are doing and the environment they’re doing it in. They should have a good understanding of the proper safety policies and procedures and the proper usage of equipment. It is also a good idea for plant owners to have a safety professional to supervise employees.