An explosion and fire caused when a heat exchanger containing flammable liquid propane violently ruptured is the focus of a new safety video from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. The June 13, 2013, explosion and fire at the Williams Olefins Plant in Geismar, La., killed two workers and injured an additional 167.

The 12-minute safety video, “Blocked In,” includes a 3D animation of the explosion and fire as well as interviews with CSB investigator Lauren Grim and Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland. It is based on the CSB’s case study on the Williams incident and can be viewed on the CSB’s website and YouTube

Several process safety management program deficiencies at Williams set the stage for the incident, the CSB found. Specifically, the heat exchanger that failed was completely isolated from its pressure-relief valve, the CSB noted.

"Our investigation on the explosion at Williams describes an ineffective process safety management program at the plant at the time of the incident," Sutherland said. "We urge other companies to incorporate our recommendations at their facilities and to assess the state of their cultures to promote safety at all organizational levels to prevent a similar accident."

The CSB investigation concluded that in the 12 years leading to the incident, a series of process safety management program deficiencies caused the heat exchanger to be unprotected from overpressure. In addition, the CSB found that Williams failed to develop a written procedure for activities performed on the day of the incident, and that it did not have a routine maintenance schedule to prevent the operational heat exchanger from needing to be shut down for cleaning. 

The video describes CSB’s recommendations made to the Williams Geismar plant. These include:

  • Conduct safety culture assessments that involve workforce participation, and communicate the results in reports that recommend specific actions to address safety culture weaknesses.
  • Develop a robust safety indicators tracking program that uses the data identified to drive continual safety improvement.
  • Perform comprehensive process safety program assessments to thoroughly evaluate the effectiveness of the facility’s process safety programs.