Refinery blast in Washington points to dangers in process start-ups

by on December 21, 2010 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

You know process start-ups – whether for the first time or after a shutdown – pose a special danger. We’re reminded of this point by the disaster at the Tesoro Petroleum refinery at Anacortes, WA, and its aftermath.

The state Labor Department just levied a record $2.4 million fine against Tesoro for the April accident, which
killed seven workers.

It occurred as a heat exchanger was being brought back on line after maintenance. Over its 40-year life, the
exchanger had developed cracks, which had been welded closed. But the exchanger blew out along the cracks, spewing vapor and exploding liquid.

Start-ups can be risky in a number of ways. Among them:

  • Unusual stress can be exerted on machinery. This is what happened at Tesoro, as the start-up tested weak points in the exchanger walls.
  • Lockout/tagout slip-ups can cause injury to personnel still working on the equipment.
  • Critical safety procedures can slip people’s minds during the downtime.

Takeaway: Make sure operators take special care when starting up any process, especially one that could release a significant amount of energy.

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