Three workers are dead following the explosion of an abandoned containment vessel they were dismantling at an Arkansas oil site.
“During the dismantling, there was an ignition of vapors inside one of the tanks,” said Chad Stover, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management. “All three were killed. They were burned beyond recognition.”
|The fatal explosion was immediately followed by a statement by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board on the dangers of hot work around tanks. Dozens of workers have been killed in such explosions in recent years, including one (pictured) in 2008 that killed three workers at the Packaging Corp. of America.|
The three men were employees of Long Brothers Oil Co., based in Norphlet, AR. The accident occurred as they were taking apart an old crude-oil storage tank at a site the company owned near El Dorado, in southern Arkansas, authorities said.
“They didn’t think [the tank] posed a danger, because it was so old,” Stover said.
Initial speculation focused on a power saw as the ignition source. The saw was found under the body of one of the workers, who had been blown far from the tank, which apparently contained some petroleum residue, officials said.
The blast occurred about 4 p.m. Monday (May 21), setting off a blaze that spread to nearby woods before being brought under control Monday night.
The men’s names were not immediately released, pending notification of their families.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were all investigating the blast.
Long Brothers Oil did not return a phone call Wednesday (May 23) seeking comment.
‘Hot Work’ Cited
The Chemical Safety Board immediately released a statement on the deadly dangers of “hot work”—any burning, cutting, grinding, brazing, welding or other operation that can spark a fire or explosion.
CSB recently blamed hot work for a similar accident that blew apart a 10,800-gallon chemical storage tank at a DuPont polymer plant in New York. That explosion killed a welder who was working on a tank that was erroneously thought to be empty of vapors.
“This unfortunate tragedy in Arkansas involving the deaths of three workers is the kind of hot-work accident that occurs much too frequently,” CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said in a statement.
“The CSB has investigated too many of these accidents, which can be prevented by carefully monitoring for flammable vapor before and during hot work.”
Safety Bulletins, Standards
The Safety Board has released a safety bulletin, “Seven Key Lessons to Prevent Worker Deaths During Hot Work In and Around Tanks,” and a video, “Hot Work: Hidden Hazards,” on the dangers of hot work around piping and tanks without appropriate testing or monitoring to see if they contain flammable vapors.
Those resources, issued in 2010 after the DuPont explosion, cited seven fatal hot-work explosions since July 2008.
All of those accidents results from a flammable vapor coming in contact with an ignition source caused by someone working in, or near, tanks that contained flammables, CSB said.
The Safety Board’s seven lessons are:
• Use alternatives (find other work methods whenever possible).
• Analyze the hazards.
• Monitor the atmosphere.
• Test the area.
• Use written permits.
• Train thoroughly.
• Supervise contractors.
OSHA hot-work standards are contained in 29 CFR 1910.252. The National Fire Protection Association also has a voluntary consensus standard that addresses hot work practices.