CSB: PSM Program Deficiencies Led to 2013 Explosion and Fire at Louisiana Facility

Published October 26, 2016

​Deficiencies in process safety management (PSM) led to the 2013 explosion and fire at the Geismar, La., Williams Olefins Plant, which produced ethylene and propylene for the petrochemical industry, according to a final report issued by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB). CSB found that these deficiencies allowed a reboiler, a type of heat exchanger, to be unprotected from overpressure and rupture, causing the explosion at the facility. The fire and explosion occurred during an expansion project intended to increase the facility’s production of ethylene. These non-routine operational activities introduced heat to the reboiler, which was offline and isolated from its pressure-relief device at the time of the incident. Two employees were killed and 167 others reported injuries.

CSB’s investigation found several PSM program weaknesses at the Williams Geismar facility. According to the agency, Williams failed to appropriately manage or review changes that introduced new hazards involving the reboiler that ruptured; effectively complete a hazard analysis recommendation intended to protect the reboiler; and perform a hazard analysis and develop a procedure for the non-routine activities being conducted on the day of the incident. To prevent future incidents and improve process safety at the facility, CSB recommended that Williams conduct safety culture assessments, develop a robust tracking program for safety indicators, and conduct detailed assessments of its process safety program.

The CSB report stresses the importance of establishing a strong organizational process safety culture and using the hierarchy of controls to effectively evaluate and select safeguards to control process hazards.

“Most of the accidents the CSB investigates could have been prevented had process safety culture been a top priority at the facility where the incident occurred,” said CSB Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland. “These changes must be encouraged from the top with managers implementing effective process safety management programs.”

For more information, see CSB’s press release. The agency’s full report is available as a PDF.