CSB Urges Oil and Chemical Facilities to Take Special Safety Precautions During Startups

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) has issued a safety bulletin urging oil and chemical facilities to take special precautions when restarting in the wake of shutdowns due to Hurricane Katrina.

The full text of the bulletin has been posted on the agency Web site, http://www.csb.gov.

"Facilities should pay particular attention to process safety requirements during this critical period to assure a safe and expeditious return to operation," CSB cautions in the bulletin.

Industry is well-aware that starting up a complex petrochemical process requires and receives a higher level of attention and care than normal processing, because numerous activities are occurring simultaneously and many automatic systems are run under manual control. Noting that many facilities after being forced to shut down during the hurricane and subsequent floods will be restarting over the coming weeks and months, CSB points out, "This is a time to make sure that no more lives are claimed by this tragedy and no further delays occur in the production of essential transportation fuels and chemicals."

"From our past investigations we know firsthand the dangers of catastrophic incidents during startup," CSB Chairman Carolyn Merritt said. "The nation can not afford another serious petrochemical plant accident, especially in this crucial time of tight fuel supplies. We are urging facilities to follow established startup procedures and checklists prior to restarting."

The safety bulletin points to three catastrophic startup incidents investigated by the CSB that occurred at U.S. petrochemical plants since the agency began operations in

1998. These resulted in a total of 22 deaths, more than 170 injuries and lengthy shutdowns in production units. Other tragic incidents investigated by the CSB occurred during the startup of batch process and during maintenance operations that followed a power outage.

The safety bulletin suggests specific procedures to assure safe restarts under the headings, "Rely on Established Safety Systems" and "Check Process Equipment Thoroughly." For example, facilities are urged to follow established startup procedures and checklists, and to recognize that "human performance may be compromised due to crisis conditions." Merritt added that "many employees in the region have lost homes or loved ones in the hurricane, adding to the stress of an already difficult work situation."

The bulletin calls on facilities to check bulk storage tanks for evidence of floating displacement or damage, and to examine insulation systems, sewers, drains, furnace systems, electric motors and other equipment, including warning systems, to make sure they are fully functional.

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