CSB Releases Final Report on 2013 Williams Olefins Fire


Baton Rouge, LA — The Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has released its final report into the June 13, 2013, explosion and fire at the Williams Olefins Plant in Geismar, Louisiana, which killed two employees. The report concludes that process safety management program deficiencies at the Williams Geismar facility during the 12 years leading to the incident allowed a type of heat exchanger called a “reboiler” to be unprotected from overpressure, and ultimately rupture, causing the explosion.

The Williams Geismar facility produces ethylene and propylene for the petrochemical industry and employs approximately 110 people. At the time of the incident, approximately 800 contractors worked at the plant on an expansion project aimed at increasing the production of ethylene.

The incident occurred during non-routine operational activities that introduced heat to the reboiler, which was offline and isolated from its pressure relief device. The heat increased the temperature of a liquid propane mixture confined within the reboiler, resulting in a dramatic pressure rise within the vessel. The reboiler shell catastrophically ruptured, causing a boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion (BLEVE) and fire, which killed two workers; 167 others reported injuries, the majority of which were contractors.

The CSB investigation revealed a poor process safety culture at the Williams Geismar facility, resulting in a number of process safety management program weaknesses. These include deficiencies in implementing Management of Change (MOC), Pre-Startup Safety Review (PSSR), Process Hazard Analysis (PHA) programs, and procedure programs causal to the incident.

Following the incident, Williams implemented improvements in managing process safety at the Geismar facility. These include, among others, redesigning the reboilers to prevent isolation from their pressure relief valves, improving its management of change process to be more collaborative, and updating its process hazard analysis procedure.