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1 Killed, 1 Burned in CA Tank Blast

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

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For the fourth time in a few weeks, a worker has died and another has been injured after accidentally igniting vapors while dismantling an oil tank that they thought were empty.

Cesar Martinez, 24, was killed and Eric Robles was injured in the accident about 9 a.m. Tuesday (June 19) at Sun Mountain Oil & Gas facility in Arvin, CA.

 The explosion blew the 16,800-gallon tank 30 feet in the air and the worker more than 50 feet in the air.

 Kern County Fire Department

The explosion blew the 16,800-gallon tank 30 feet in the air and the worker more than 50 feet in the air. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Martinez and Robles worked for Skybrand Service, of Bakersfield, CA. The men were near two crude-oil storage tanks and believed that both the pipes and the tanks were empty, the Kern County Fire Department reported.

‘A Powerful Explosion’

The cutting operation set off “a powerful explosion” directly behind the fire station, hurling the 400-barrel tank (approximately 16,800 gallons) 30 feet into the air and 79 feet from the scene, the fire department said.

The blast threw Martinez more than 50 feet into the air and more than 100 feet from the site; he was pronounced dead at the scene. Robles was thrown into a nearby chain link fence and was helicoptered to a hospital.

Robles’ injuries were initially described as critical, but Dale Hill, a partner with Skybrand Service, said Wednesday that Robles had been released from the hospital and would recover.

Hill said that both Martinez and Robles were experienced workers. Robles had been with Skybrand for about six months; Martinez, for about two years.

California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) is investigating the blast.

AR, NY Explosions

Martinez’s death came less than a month after three workers in Arkansas perished in a similar explosion that occurred while they were dismantling an old oil storage tank. That blast, on May 21, set off a fire that spread to a wooded area before being brought under control.

Authorities suspect that a power saw ignited toxic vapors, killing the three employees of Long Brothers Oil Co., based in Norphlet, AR.

 Another “hot work” explosion killed a welder atop a steel tank at a DuPont polymer plant in 2010.

 US Chemical Safety Board

Another “hot work” explosion killed a welder atop a steel tank at a DuPont polymer plant in 2010.

Federal OSHA, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), and the Environmental Protection Agency were all investigating the blast.

Those deaths occurred less than a month after the Chemical Safety Board concluded that another form of hot work touched off yet another explosion that killed a subcontractor at a DuPont polymer plant in New York in 2010.

The board said DuPont’s engineers had fatally misjudged the level of flammable vapor inside the 10,800-gallon tank that exploded and killed welder Richard Folaron, 57.

In its final report and investigation video, CSB said DuPont had monitored the atmosphere above the tank, where Folaron was working, but had failed to monitor the tank interior.

‘Hot Work’ Warnings

The DuPont explosion came just a few months after CSB issued a 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. The bulletin cited 11 fatal hot-work accidents.

After the Arkansas accident last month, the Chemical Safety Board issued another warning about deadly “hot work” accidents, saying they occur “much too frequently.”

Board 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.”


Tagged categories: Accidents; Explosions; Health and safety; OSHA; Pipeline; Tanks and vessels

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