Safety in Process Engineering

John Pound – 10th January 2006

The President, in his introduction, noted the speaker’s long experience of safety issues in process plants in many parts of the world. In his opening remarks, John paid tribute to Trevor Kletz, a pioneer in this field, much of this contained in his book Lessons from Disaster. The talk proceeded to illustrate industrial disasters, of varying seriousness, over recent decades, and lessons learnt.

The first example was of Flixborough, North Lincolnshire, where in 1974 a cyclohexane oxidation plant was destroyed, with the deaths of 28 people. From this resulted the creation of the Health and Safety Executive.

The next scene noted was in northeast UK, the North Tees area, at an oil refinery, where a footbridge was being installed at a naphtha tank farm. Welding took place and the operatives were unaware of a nearby leakage of flammable naphtha. An explosive flash occurred, killing two. At the same refinery, during the routine examination of a hot oil pump, following initial checks, action was taken to dissemble the pump, without prior permission. Hot oil exploded, killing 3 staff.

Working with Celanese Canada Inc. in Alberta provided more valuable experience. As part of natural gas supply, a large horizontal autoclave was used to clean and recycle acetone. The autoclave opening was at a domed end, held in place by bolts. On one occasion the bolts were loosened whilst the vessel was under pressure. This blew off the bolts remaining and the domed end, with serious consequences. The bolts were changed to a specification that permitted safe opening. At a Celanese methanol plant of long standing, carelessness in line connection caused the reverse flow of caustic soda. Clamps were loosened with hoses under pressure, causing leakage. This resulted in all hoses being identified. Pressure Inspection Diagrams were displayed to show pressure levels at all points in the plant.

Resulting from a serious incident in Texas, where 16 people were killed, major safety improvements were actioned. Resulting from Federal Edict 1010, a Management change Form was introduced as part of Quality Assurance. Process Safety Reviews were carried out and the Safety Form signed off and audited. The need for clear communication was emphasised, with one Engineer responsible for safety procedures.

A lively question and answer session followed, with the recent major fire at Buncefield Fuel Terminal, Herts. fresh in the minds of the audience. This was followed by a well-deserved vote of thanks for a most interesting and topical talk.

C Harrison