On November 9, 2010 a highly preventable welding explosion occurred at the DuPont chemical plant that employs approximately 600 workers and is located in Tonawanda, NY. The explosion killed 57-year old welder Richard Folaron instantly and injured one other worker. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) recently released its draft findings report during a news conference in Buffalo. The CSB investigators found that overlooked safety hazards significantly contributed to the accident and have developed recommendations to help ensure that similar events are prevented.

Rafael Moure-Erason, Chairperson of the CSB stated:

I find it tragic that we continue to see lives lost from hot work accidents, which occur all too frequently despite long-known procedures that can prevent them. Facility managers have an obligation to assure the absence of a flammable atmosphere in areas where hot work is to take place.

The CSB investigation found that during welding on top of a storage tank, sparks and/or heat most likely ignited flammable vapor, which blew the top of the tank off. The report found that although DuPont monitored the space outside of the tank for flammable vapors before the welding began, they failed to monitor inside the tank. They also found a crack in a pipe that allowed the gas to seep into the tanks. The CSB issued several recommendations to DuPont to prevent future events, which included, “enforcing safety procedures for hot work permits and ensuring explosion hazards associated with hot work activity are recognized and mitigated; revising corporate procedures to require all process piping and vent piping be positively isolated before authorizing any hot work, and to require air monitoring for flammable vapor inside tanks and other containers where hot work is to be performed.” The CSB’s recommendations and findings were passed by DuPont’s Board at a public meeting on April 19, 2012.

If you are interested in learning more about this fatal accident, the CSB produced a detailed animation that depicts the events that led up to the explosion, “Hotwork: Hidden Hazards”.