The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) highlighted the positive actions of Airgas in a recent “Safety Spotlight.”
The agency said Airgas, an Air Liquide Company, rapidly implemented a “robust” process safety management program in response to its recommendation following CSB’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 its 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.
“Taking proactive, effective action, similar to what Airgas did following this incident, is the hallmark of driving chemical safety change,” said Katherine Lemos, CSB chairman. “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.