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November 5, 2013

CSB commends NFPA for comprehensive fuel-gas-safety standard

Dorothy Lozowski

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB; Washington, D.C.; has announced that the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) exceeded the CSB's recommended actions following the February 7, 2010, deadly natural-gas explosion at the Kleen Energy electric plant — then under construction in Middletown, Conn.  The blast, which killed six workers and injured at least 50, resulted during an operation known as a “gas blow”—whereby large quantities of natural gas are forced through piping at high pressure to remove debris.  The gas accumulated and was ignited by an undetermined source.
The CSB announcement was made at the American Gas Association’s Safety Summit in Washington, D.C. on November 4, 2013.
The CSB issued an urgent recommendation in June 2010 calling on the NFPA —  a voluntary consensus standards organization that develops codes and standards that can then be adopted into law by states and localities  — to revise its National Fuel Gas Code (also known as NFPA 54) to prohibit this inherently unsafe pipe-cleaning methodology. In response, the NFPA proposed and developed a comprehensive new gas-process-safety standard, NFPA 56, “Standard for Fire and Explosion Prevention During Cleaning and Purging of Flammable Gas Piping Systems” using an expedited standards development process.
CSB chairperson, Rafael Moure-Eraso said, “We heartily commend the NFPA for acting promptly and decisively in adopting the CSB recommendation in record time. NFPA issued a provisional standard in 24 weeks, which was less than 18 months after the accident. NFPA moved it through the document’s revision cycle smoothly, formally publishing the NFPA 56 2014 edition last August. Our board recently voted unanimously to close this recommendation as “Exceeds recommended action” – our highest level of approval.”
The new NFPA standard states unequivocally that flammable gas shall not be used for internal cleaning of piping, instead recommending air, steam, water and inert gas as acceptable substitutes.  It includes a detailed list of procedures and training requirements for workers involved in the cleaning operation. 
The scope of the new standard not only exceeds the requirements of the CSB recommendation concerning the Kleen Energy accident, Moure-Eraso noted, but also addresses the deadly pipe-purging operation that led to the June 8, 2009 explosion at the Con Agra Slim Jim facility in Garner, N.C.  Four workers were killed and 67 others were injured.  Workers were using natural gas indoors to purge the air out of piping while installing a new boiler. Accumulated gas ignited and the blast caused the roof to collapse onto workers.  
“We are very pleased to see NFPA 56 also includes requirements for purging fuel gas systems into and out of service, saying gases must be released to a safe outdoor location, or captured inside and further processed before release,” Moure-Eraso said.  
Moure-Eraso noted that the NFPA’s action now means that 14 of the 18 recommendations issued by the CSB following the Kleen Energy accident are now closed.
Safety videos on these accidents, the investigation reports and list of CSB safety recommendations may be found on the CSB’s website.
The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating serious chemical accidents and hazards. The agency's board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as absence or inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.
The Board makes safety recommendations to regulatory agencies, including OSHA and EPA, as well as to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and other institutions and organizations, but it does not issue citations or fines.

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