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Explosion at Dow Chemical plant kills worker

Posted on by SST

A man died from burns following a chemical explosion at a plant owned by Dow Chemical Co. in North Andover, Mass.

The man was working alone in a lab on Oct. 9 when a pyrophoric chemical ignited, Salmen News reported. Trimethylindium, the chemical believed to have caused the explosion, reacts if exposed to air below a certain temperature. Officials believe the substance was accidentally exposed to air in the lab, but they are not sure how.

"Either there was a malfunction of the container or human error," Said North Andover Fire Chief Andrew Melnikas.

The resulting explosion left the 51-year old employee burned over half his body, Eagle Tribune reported. He was flown by helicopter to a nearby hospital where he died the following day.

The fire in the lab was contained by a sprinkler system, said a spokesperson for state Fire Marshal Stephen Coan. A fire alarm system alerted the rest of the employees who were able to get out safely. North Andover firefighters arrived shortly after.

According to Coan, new guidelines for hazardous materials processing would likely have required Dow to receive a permit from the fire department for the processes conducted in the lab. The guidelines, however, will not take effect until Jan. 1, 2014.

"I believe the chemical process safety regulations being phased in will provide better communication and coordination with the fire service and lead to improved fire safety for workers and communities," said Coan.

Pyrophoric Gases
The chemical believed to have triggered the deadly incident falls under the pyrophoric classification. These chemicals can combust spontaneously when exposed to air below 130 degrees Fahrenheit, making them extremely hazardous in the workplace.

The Occupational Health and Safety Agency recently set guidelines for the labeling of pyrophoric gases. The chemical must be addressed on both the container and accompanying safety data sheet. As part of the protocol, OSHA  provided the signal word "danger" and the hazard statement "catches fire spontaneously if exposed to air" to be be put in use.

Special handling is also recommended when dealing with the chemicals. Storage tanks need to be transported carefully, as rough handling can potentially cause leaks. OSHA recommends use of gas monitoring devices with automatic shut-offs and alarm systems in the rooms where pyrophoric materials are dealt with.

Industrial Safety News brought to you by Safety Systems Technology, Inc., leaders in fire and gas detection.

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