Data compiled by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) for the first quarter of fiscal year 2023 reveals “a significant uptick in reportable events during the quarter.”
There were also “an extremely high number of serious events” over the Christmas weekend, which the CSB said coincided with cold temperatures across the U.S.
8 reportable events over 2022 Christmas weekend
Thirty-six events were reported to the CSB from Oct. 1 through Dec. 26. Eight of those occurred during the Christmas holiday weekend. That’s more than double the number of events for the first three months of the previous two fiscal years, with 2021 having 16 events in that timespan and 2020 with 14.
These reportable events involved accidental chemical releases resulting in a fatality, serious injury or substantial property damage.
While the uptick in reportable events may have been due to record low temperatures across most of the country, companies still “need to heighten their focus on safe operations and recognize that taking important precautionary actions, like winterization, can help prevent major chemical accidents,” CSB Chairperson Steve Owens said.
Cold weather and chemical plants
Cold weather can cause safety challenges for chemical facilities, including water freezing and expanding which can lead to cracked or broken pipes, damaged equipment or instrument failure.
There are other hazards, too, such as the formation of a hydrate, where water chemically combines with a compound, which can also expand and block process piping.
According to the CSB, facilities’ process safety management programs, including hazard reviews, management of change evaluations, pre-startup safety reviews, and operating procedures, should reflect a year-round focus on how cold temperatures could affect piping, equipment and instrumentation.