An official report into a fatal explosion at an Airgas, Inc. plant in Florida, US, last year has revealed that inadequate safety measures were the root cause of the incident.
Jesse Folmar, the only employee present at the time of the incident, was killed by the nitrous oxide explosion at the Cantonment plant on 28th August 2016. The facility was heavily damaged and operations halted indefinitely.
The report, as set out by the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), revealed that a pump used to transfer liquid nitrous oxide from a storage tank to trailers overheated and was the most probable cause of the accident.
The report stated, “Exceeding [these] critical safety limits appears to have started a nitrous oxide decomposition reaction.” This is cited as resulting in the trailer exploding.
Critical causes also included ineffective safeguards and a lack of focus on process safety, according to the 146-page report.
The CSB investigation found that Airgas lacked a safety management system to identify, evaluate and control nitrous oxide process safety hazards, which ultimately led to the explosion. Whilst the Compressed Gas Association (CGA) does outline some voluntary guidelines, federal regulations do not currently apply to the manufacturing, transferring and shipping of nitrous oxide.
“Our top priority is the safety of our associates, customers and the communities in which we operate”
Statement by Airgas subsidiary Nitrous Oxide Corp.
In the months following the incident, Airgas began a safety review of its nitrous oxide production facilities, trucking fleet and cylinder filling operations. A statement from Airgas subsidiary Nitrous Oxide Corp. said, “[We] have worked cooperatively over many months with representatives from the CSB and others to thoroughly investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident.”
“Our top priority is the safety of our associates, customers and the communities in which we operate. We deeply regret the tragic loss of life, damage and disruption caused by the incident.”
“CSB’s recommendation to complete the development and implementation of the nitrous oxide business process safety initiative that Airgas is presently undertaking aligns with the company’s own goal to prevent any future incidents. We look forward to continuing the safe production of nitrous oxide for our customers,” it concluded.