Technician killed in gas pipe explosion

NIOSH’s Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Reports
Date of incident: Jan. 5, 2008

A pipe technician was killed after being struck by debris from the explosion of a 54-inch coke oven gas pipe. The victim was working as part of a subcontracted pipeline repair crew. The company had a written safety and health program, although the section on welding, cutting and brazing did not include a section on pipelines. On the day of the incident, the victim and two other crew members were hand tapping and using a pneumatic drill to affix gasketed steel cladding to patch the COG pipe. To allow for future repairs, a bypass pipeline had been constructed on a 42-inch live COG pipe to the 54-inch pipe. The workers were affixing the second of three patches when the explosion occurred. The two crew members working with the victim survived the blast. When the dust from the explosion cleared, they discovered the victim in his fall protection, hanging upside-down from the pipe’s supporting ironwork near the area of the explosion. Emergency medical services were called, and the site owner’s security team arrived to begin resuscitative efforts. When EMS arrived, they pronounced the victim dead at the scene.

To prevent future occurrences:

Employers should always treat pipes as active and test pipes for explosive gas before initiating or continuing any work on a pipe after a period of inactivity. In this case, the employer did not consider pneumatic drilling on the 54-inch pipe “hot work,” yet sparks from contact between the drill and metal pipeline may have initiated the explosion.

Employers performing work as subcontractors should place their own locks on equipment if their workers are scheduled to be the first to perform work. Although flammable gases must have been present in the 54-inch pipe, it is unclear how they got there. It appears as though the valves were closed and locked out using the site owner’s locks, but it is unknown if these valves were at some point opened, shut and relocked. 

Site owners and subcontractors should ensure effective communication for all site work. Although several meetings occurred in the days preceding the incident, the site owner did not know work was scheduled to be performed on the 54-inch pipe that day. If the site owner had been notified of the work, the pipe would  have been tested for the presence of flammable gases.

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