Report: Hose failure, emergency processes caused fatal accident, p2

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on Jul 11, 2011 in Wrongful Death

In our last post, we were talking about the U.S. Chemical Safety Board's preliminary report on the DuPont Belle plant accident in early 2010. A release of deadly phosgene gas resulted in the death of a long-time plant employee. Another worker was exposed to the gas, and there was also a "near miss" release that day. The Belle plant is 10 miles south of Charleston, on the Kanawha River.

The safety board confirmed the cause of the accident: A braided steel hose connected to two phosgene tanks ruptured, releasing 20 pounds of the gas. The worker received a lethal does in less than a tenth of a second. The board's other findings, though, show that the release could have been prevented.

According to the report, DuPont did not have an adequate phosgene awareness program in place. As we discussed in our last post, the gas is highly toxic. The board found that DuPont did not conduct annual safety awareness training, particularly related to thermal expansion of liquid phosgene, for workers who handle the gas. Liquid phosgene turns to gas the second it's released -- hence, the term "thermal expansion."

The lack of awareness was clear when a worker approached the phosgene shed soon after the accident. That worker did not recognize the smell of phosgene, but noted only that it was different from the smell of anything else he knew. Had he not left the area, he, too, could have been injured.

Another problem was the frequent updates to maintenance software, and the failure of that program to flag phosgene hoses for change-out on a regular basis. The ruptured hose had been in place several months past its change-out date. In fact, the day of the fatal release, workers found and replaced another damaged hose. It, too, would have ruptured if it hadn't been discovered.

Among the other findings was one that struck a particularly familiar chord: The plant did not have a designated emergency contact. No person or team was familiar with the emergency process, and no one was specifically appointed to work with Metro 911.

The Upper Big Branch report had the same criticism of that operation. The emergency procedures were muddled and uncoordinated between the mine and responders.

West Virginia's workforce deserves better protections from workplace hazards.

Source: Charleston (West Virginia) Daily Mail, "Safety board criticizes DuPont for fatal phosgene release," George Hohmann, 07/blog/2011

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