CSB Releases New Safety Video on 2011 Explosion and Fire that Killed Five Workers during a Fireworks Disposal Operation in Hawaii

January 17, 2013
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board today released a new safety video depicting the events leading up to an explosion and fire that killed five workers during a fireworks disposal operation in Waipahu, Hawaii. The new video, entitled “Deadly Contract” features a new HD animation depicting highly explosive firework components igniting inside a tunnel-like magazine.
The video, which details the findings and safety recommendations resulting from the Board’s final report, was approved today at a public meeting in Washington, DC. The DEI investigation report concludes that the explosion and fire resulted from unsafe disposal practices, insufficient safety requirements for government contractor selection and oversight and an absence of adequate federal regulations, standards, and guidelines for safe fireworks disposal.
In the video CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso says, “Fireworks have been around for centuries, so we were surprised to learn that there are no good-practice procedures for their disposal. And we also found that the federal government did not require fireworks disposal contractors to demonstrate that they could perform the work safely.”
              The April 8, 2011, incident occurred as employees of Donaldson Enterprises, Inc. (DEI) sought shelter from rain inside a storage magazine located in Waipahu, Hawaii, near Honolulu. The storage facility contained government-confiscated, illegally labeled fireworks, which the workers had been dismantling under a subcontract to a federal prime contract. To conduct this work, DEI personnel cut into the fireworks and separated out the aerial shells and black powder – a highly explosive mixture of chemicals used to propel the fireworks into the air. The accumulation of aerial shells and black powder greatly increased the explosion hazard.
              The video includes an interview with Mr. Ali Reza, an explosives expert that worked with the CSB on its investigation. In the video Mr. Rezas says, ”As you’re physically breaking up the fireworks…you’re exposing yourself to the black powder. Once you have loose black powder in contact with materials that can create friction, an ignition is extremely likely.”
CSB Investigator Amanda Johnson states, “While the exact ignition source could not be determined, strong possibilities include friction from an office chair rolling over the loose explosive powder on the magazine floor, or a metal spark from a hand truck, which was blown over 100 feet from the magazine entrance when the explosion occurred.”
The final report notes that OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM) standard applies to fireworks manufacturing, but not to fireworks disposal work. The investigation determined, “DEI would have greatly benefitted from Process Safety Management (PSM) principles and concepts of inherent safety,” among them, not accumulating large amounts of highly explosive black powder and aerial shells while awaiting disposal.
Investigator Amanda Johnson said, “The CSB found the root causes of the explosion went far beyond DEI’s flawed procedures. For instance, we found there are no federal, state or local codes, regulations or standards that establish safety requirements or provide guidance on proper ways to dispose of fireworks.”
As a result of the report’s findings the CSB is recommending that federal agencies develop a new government-wide safety and environmental responsibility requirement for contractors, and calls for new regulations on the safe disposal of fireworks, a growing problem across the US.
The CSB released its final report and formal safety recommendation at a public meeting in Washington, DC on January 17, 2013.
The video is available to stream or download on www.csb.gov and may be viewed on the CSB’s YouTube channel, USCSB (www.youtube.com/uscsb).
The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating serious chemical accidents. The agency's board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.
The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. Visit our website, www.csb.gov.
For more information, contact CSB Communications Manager Hillary Cohen, cell 202 446.8094, or Sandy Gilmour, cell 202.251.5496.
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