Food plant blast prompts call for gas safety law change

Tuesday 29 June 2010

A US federal agency is urging a ban on using natural gas to clean out industrial piping and purging gas pipes indoors in the wake of fatal explosions at a ConAgra food processing plant in 2009 and a power plant earlier this year.

The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) was due to vote last night on the measure in a bid to tackle explosions and fires caused when fuel gas is used to clean or purge gas pipes of debris, air or other substances. Such an exercise is usually carried out during maintenance or construction. The body cited the blasts at the Kleen Energy power plant in Middletown, and the ConAgra meat processing facility as the reasons behind the call for the law change plea.

The CSB has laid out a total of 20 recommendations as it said the “significant gap” in the current gas safety standards for general industry and construction “threatens the continued safety of workers at facilities that handle flammable natural gas.”

ConAgra explosion

Some four workers were killed and 67 injured when a blast ripped through ConAgra’s Slim Jim processing facility in June 2009 The explosion was triggered when workmen vented natural gas inside the building’s pump room while purging a gas line. A safety report subsequently listed a slew of infringements that included failing to follow safety procedures, faulty alarm systems and not maintaining a workplace free of serious health hazards. ConAgra later announced it would shutter the plant. The company also changed its practice and no longer carries out gas purging indoors.

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