The Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) dispatched a team of seven accident investigators to the site of a recent fatal fire at a Bethlehem Steel plant.
The fire at the Burns Harbor, Ind., steel mill killed two workers and injured four others, one seriously. The fatalities included one company employee and a contract worker.
The incident occurred on the afternoon of Feb. 2, in conjunction with demolition work on a disused furnace.
According to CSB investigators, maintenance workers were removing a 10-inch valve from a pipe used to supply coke gas fuel to the furnace.
Flammable liquid was unexpectedly released and ignited. The resulting fire caused the deaths and injuries.
CSB concluded that, at the time of the incident, the workers were about 20 feet above ground level, with limited means of escape.
Coke gas is produced from coal by a chemical process of destructive distillation, analogous to the production of charcoal from wood.
The coke gas is used as a fuel, while the carbon-rich solid coke residue is used to produce steel.
CSB said an initial focus of the investigation will be to determine why flammable material was still present in piping that was to undergo maintenance work.
According to CSB spokesman Dr. Andrea Kidd Taylor, "An investigative team was deployed within hours of the event on Friday. The investigators will determine the circumstances underlying this tragedy and report to the board. We will be particularly interested in any similarities to past incidents where flammable releases have occurred during maintenance activities on piping."
by Virginia Sutcliffe