Pensacola, FL, — The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has released its final report into the August 28, 2016, nitrous oxide explosion at the Airgas manufacturing facility in Cantonment, Florida. The blast killed the only Airgas employee working at the facility that day and heavily damaged the plant, halting its manufacturing of nitrous oxide indefinitely.
The CSB investigation found that federal regulations require some chemical facilities that manufacture hazardous substances to have process safety management systems in place to protect their workforce and the public. The CSB discovered, however, that a majority of these specialized rules are not required for nitrous oxide facilities.
In its final report, the CSB notes that the contributing causes of the explosion all stemmed from the lack of an effective process safety management system. For example:
– Even though heat from the pump was a known hazard, Airgas did not evaluate safer design options that could have eliminated the need for the pump altogether;
– The company did not perform a management of change review or hazard analysis before installing the pump to identify and control hazards; and
– Safeguards installed by the company, including the safety interlock to automatically shut down the pump, and flame arrestors were likely ineffective, and failed to prevent the incident.
The Airgas Cantonment facility is one of four manufacturing plants in the United States producing nitrous oxide for industrial facilities, hospitals, and universities. The Airgas process includes pumping liquid nitrous oxide from storage tanks into trailer trucks or shipping containers, which deliver the product nationwide.
As a result of its investigation, the CSB issued safety recommendations to Airgas, the Compressed Gas Association, and to two nitrous oxide pump manufacturers. The recommendations include the development and implementation of a safety management system standard for nitrous oxide manufacturing as well as the distribution of increased warnings about nitrous oxide decomposition hazards.