Training and materials choices blamed for fatal Texas blast

Article by Adam Duckett

POOR materials selection and staff training failures contributed to an explosion and fire at a KMCO chemicals facility in the US which killed one worker and seriously injured two others in 2019.

The explosion occurred at KMCO’s chemicals plant in Crosby, Texas after isobutylene leaked from a fracture in a segment of piping. It formed a flammable cloud which was ignited, most likely by contact with electrical equipment. At least 28 other workers were injured, including five KMCO employees and 23 contract workers.

The leak happened when a piece of equipment called a y-strainer ruptured due to brittle overload pressure. The US Chemicals Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) found that the y-strainer was made of cast iron despite good practice recommendations, and installed in an area of the piping system that was not equipped with a pressure-relief device or protected from potential high-pressure conditions.

It also found that worker culture at the plant led unit operators to put themselves in personal danger to try and stop the release before the site’s emergency response team assembled. It said KMCO could have reduced the severity of the incident had it put in place clear policies and training to prevent its workforce from putting themselves at risk.

CSB chairperson Steve Owens said: “The tragic death and injuries caused by this terrible event should never have happened. KMCO did not properly train its employees and did not give them adequate protective safety equipment.  KMCO also failed to heed industry guidance about the need to install remote isolation equipment so that its employees could have safely stopped this serious hazardous leak.”

KMCO filed for bankruptcy after the event and is no longer in business. The Crosby site is now owned by Altivia Oxide Chemicals. The CSB has urged the firm to read the report and learn its lessons.

The full report is available to download here.

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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