Following a fatal nitrous oxide explosion, one gas supplier revamped safety procedures company-wide. These changes resulted in an approach that now exceeds the quality of a number of similar company safety programs where such operations are covered by the OSHA PSM standard, says the CSB.

Fatal Accident Prompts Changes

On August 28, 2016, a nitrous oxide trailer truck exploded at the Airgas manufacturing facility in Cantonment, Fla. The explosion fatally injured the only Airgas employee and heavily damaged the facility.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board determined that the most probable cause of the incident was that, during the initial loading of a trailer truck, a pump heated nitrous oxide above its safe operating limits. This likely started a nitrous oxide decomposition reaction that propagated from the pump into the trailer truck, causing the explosion. After its investigation, the CSB investigation found that at the time of the incident, Airgas did not have an effective safety management system that identified, evaluated and controlled process safety-related hazards like those that led to the explosion.

Following the incident, Airgas began a comprehensive initiative to review the safety programs for their nitrous oxide production facilities, trucking fleet and cylinder-filling operations. The scope of this safety initiative includes 17 different areas for process safety.

 Some of the company’s most significant improvements include initiatives typically associated with the most effective safety management components — including the hierarchy of controls, improved audit practices and inherently safer design. As a result, in a little more than two and a half years, Airgas reengineered its approach to managing process safety in its nitrous oxide business. Airgas also increased its efforts aimed at sharing lessons learned and good safety practices, both inside the company and with the broader compressed gas industry.

Airgas exceeded the CSB’s recommended actions by developing and rapidly executing comprehensive process safety changes that have broadly applicable lessons for the entire compressed gas industry.