Sunrise propane explosion-could a little investment in good engineering and safety systems have averted it?

Industrial Accidents

In Aug 2008, there was an explosion in a propane storage facility, located in the midst of a residential area in Toronto. There were two fatalities including that of a firefighter. The explosion was so huge it was very frightening and the subsequent fire was deadlier.

Here’s a link to the video on YouTube

About 12,500 people had to be evacuated and the damage to property was extensive. The facility is owned by Sunrise Propane Energy Group, who are now facing a class action suit against them after the incident. An investigation into the incident has thrown up some probable causes, one of which is a truck-to-truck transfer of propane, which is not recommended for safety reasons.

Additionally a review of all existing propane installations in Ontario was ordered by the local government and the report is now released. It has reportedly about 40 safety and training recommendations.  One of the recommendations is to review hazard distances and make that information available to the public at large. Unfortunately, most of the “public” everywhere (not just in Ontario) is not at all well informed about hazardous materials, their properties, safe distances and  how to handle related emergencies.

(In fact, the general lack of easily available information related to hazardous area classification was one of the reasons why Abhisam Software, decided to come out with a download version of its popular hazardous area instrumentation training course at an affordable $99 price).

Well, coming back to the propane incident, it just shows how seriously all companies need to take storage and handling of hazardous materials, in case they wish to avoid fatalities, losses to property and open ended class action suits having potential liabilities of millions of dollars.  A little investment in good engineering practices, safe designs with adequate safety margins, investment in training of operators and maintenance staff would have gone a long way in avoiding these huge costs later on. I believe there are a lot of reasons for the general deterioration of these standards in many companies, which include the following

  • the mad cost-cutting of the last decade under the influence of the wall street gang (whom we now know to be thieves in disguise)
  • the blind acceptance of these practices, by all and sundry in the management (along with some  fat, it cut out a lot of the muscle and brain too)
  • the overwhelming desire to match the “China price”
  • the “profits before safety” philosophy-in fact the “profits before anything” philosophy
  • the demolition of in-house engineering talent under the influence of again the same wall street  ( they were overheads you see, not engineers with brains)

But I will stop my rant now and allow you to mull over all this.

BTW I wonder if the bean counters at these companies have understood all this in the right context (the importance of engineering, training and safety).

Comments are always welcome.