July 24, 2020 – Today the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) released a new “Safety Spotlight” highlighting the positive actions of Airgas, Inc., an Air Liquide Company (Airgas). Airgas rapidly implemented a robust process safety management program in response to a CSB recommendation following the agency's investigation into an August 2016 fatal nitrous oxide explosion at the Airgas facility in Cantonment, FL.
Following the incident, the company quickly began a comprehensive initiative to review the safety programs for their nitrous oxide production facilities, trucking fleet, and cylinder-filling operations. The scope of this safety initiative includes 17 different areas for process safety. Some of the company’s most significant improvements include initiatives typically associated with the most effective safety management components– including the hierarchy of controls, improved audit practices and inherently safer design.
Chairman Katherine Lemos said, “Taking proactive, effective action, similar to what Airgas did following this incident, is the hallmark of driving chemical safety change. I applaud the company for beginning implementation of these important process safety initiatives before the CSB completed its final report. This is especially noteworthy given that OSHA’s Process Safety Management standard does not apply to its facilities.”
The CSB determined that the most probable cause of the incident was that, during the initial loading of a trailer truck, a pump heated nitrous oxide above its safe operating limits. This likely started a nitrous oxide decomposition reaction that propagated from the pump into the trailer truck, causing the explosion.
The “Safety Spotlight” emphasizes that in a little more than two and a half years, Airgas reengineered its entire approach to managing process safety in its nitrous oxide business. Airgas also increased its efforts aimed at sharing lessons learned and good safety practices, both inside the company and with the broader compressed gas industry. Airgas exceeded the CSB’s recommended actions by developing and rapidly executing comprehensive process safety changes that have broadly applicable lessons for the entire compressed gas industry.
The CSB’s final report is available HERE.
The CSB’s recommendations are available HERE.
The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating and determining the cause or probable cause of industrial chemical incidents resulting from the accidental release of a regulated or extremely hazardous substance into the ambient air.
The CSB’s core mission activities include conducting incident investigations; formulating preventive or mitigative recommendations based on investigation findings and advocating for their implementation; issuing reports containing the findings, conclusions, and recommendations arising from incident investigations; and conducting studies on chemical hazards.
The agency's board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The Board does not issue citations or fines but makes safety recommendations to companies, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. Please visit our website, www.csb.gov.
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