C.S.B. approves moves to prevent explosions, fires

by Bryan Salvage
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MIDDLETOWN, Conn. – By a vote of 4-1, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (C.S.B.) on June 25 approved safety recommendations to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (O.S.H.A.), National Fire Protection Agency (N.F.P.A.) and others to prevent explosions like the one in 2009 at the ConAgra Foods plant that killed six and injured others. Approved without amendments at a public meeting in Portland, Conn., the draft recommendations intend to prevent deadly explosions and fires during pipe cleaning and purging operations.

The recommendations are the result of extensive C.S.B. investigations into the Feb. 7 explosion at the Kleen Energy power plant in Middletown that caused six deaths and multiple injuries, and the June 9, 2009, explosion at the ConAgra Foods Slim Jim plant in Garner, N.C., that killed four workers and injured 67.

O.S.H.A. was urged in the C.S.B. proposed recommendations to pass regulations that would prohibit the use of natural gas for pipe cleaning, the cause of the explosion at Kleen Energy, and would prohibit the venting or purging of fuel gas indoors, the cause of the explosion at the ConAgra Slim Jim plant. Both explosions resulted from releases of natural gas during the installation and commissioning of new piping that led to gas-fired appliances. O.S.H.A. is also urged to require that companies involve their workers and contractors in developing safe procedures and training for handling fuel gas.

C.S.B. Board Member John Bresland said in testimony at a field hearing in Middletown before a subcommittee of the U.S House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor, there is a “significant gap” in the current gas-safety standards for general industry and construction, “a gap that threatens the continued safety of workers at facilities that handle flammable natural gas.”

An urgent recommendation directed at the N.F.P.A. urges the code-development organization to enact a tentative interim amendment as well as permanent changes to the National Fuel Gas Code that addresses the safe conduct of fuel gas piping cleaning operations. N.F.P.A. would be asked under the draft recommendation to remove key exemptions in the code for natural gas power plants and for high-pressure gas piping and to require the use of inherently safer alternatives to natural gas blows. C.S.B. investigators determined that compressed air is a feasible and economical alternative to using natural gas for pipe cleaning and is already used by many companies.

Other draft recommendations would seek related safety improvements from the State of Connecticut and other states, the leading gas turbine manufacturers, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Electric Power Research Institute.
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