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6 Years in Review: The US Chemical Safety Board

caribbean petroleum refining tank explosion and fire
Caribben Petroleum Refining Tank Explosion and Fire (Oct 2009, 3 Injuries)

Have you ever wondered who creates, collects, and distributes information on large scale chemical disasters worldwide?

That is the job of the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB). The CSB investigates industrial disasters to prevent repeat incidents within chemical and processing industries.

This post presents a review of the CSB’s activities over the last six years and demonstrates their impact on the industrial safety community.

It also presents industry and public feedback to the recent news that the CSB has been eliminated within the 2018 proposed presidential budget.

Who is the US Chemical Safety Board?

The CSB is an independent, non-regulatory, US federal agency charged with investigating severe industrial chemical accidents (see their website here). It is a collection of mechanical and chemical engineers, industrial safety experts, investigators, and board members with several years experience in industrial safety.

Mission

The Chemical Safety Board was authorized by the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and was put into operation in January 1998. They are charged with conducting root-cause investigations of severe industrial accidents (often many injuries, fatalities, and facility destruction over millions of dollars). They also make recommendations to regulatory agencies, industry organizations, and labor groups to prevent and mitigate these accidents in the future.

Vision

The CSB’s vision is “A Nation Safe from Chemical Disasters” (see their 2016 impact video here). Their main tool for achieving this vision is creating, tracking, and advocating recommendations from their investigation reports. Furthermore, they typically highlight safety management deficiencies, equipment failures, human errors, unforeseen chemical reactions, and other hazards involved in the incident.

Williams olefins plant explosion and fire
Williams Olefins Plant Explosion and Fire (June 2013, 2 Fatalities, 167 Injuries)
Imperial sugar company dust explosion and fire
Imperial Sugar Refinery Explosion (February 2008, 14 Fatalities, 38 Injuries)

Public Outreach

Another main objective of the Chemical Safety Board is producing educational material around industrial safety. They do this through their report distribution, creation of reenactment and safety demonstration videos, and holding public meetings to share their findings. These materials are often used in training for the industrial community, research institutions, and incident first-responders.

US Chemical Safety Board Video Al solutions fatal dust explosion
Reenactment Video – AL Solutions Dust Explosion and Fire (December 2010, 3 Fatalities, 1 Injury)

Why this Review?

The US Chemical Safety Board has been eliminated in the 2018 Proposed Presidential Budget (see statement from the CSB here), and is currently fighting to stay in existence pending the final budget tabled by congress.

The purpose of this review is to present a summary of Chemical Safety Board’s activities over the last six years. Note that I have no affiliation with the CSB and this information is taken from their website or other online sources. Other than using their reports in my academic studies, I have had little interaction with the CSB at the time of this writing.

Investigations & Recommendations

The CSB investigation and recommendation activities over the last six years are summarized in the plots to the right. The raw data can be downloaded as an excel file by clicking on the plots or using the link here.

Since 2011 the CSB has completed 24 incident investigations. From these investigations at least 102 fatalities and 805 injuries were reported. They also created a cumulative of 194 recommendations over that time and 45% of these have been closed to date.

Some of the largest incidents reported over the last six years include:

The Chemical Safety Board also released a review of public safety around abandoned oil tank sites. Accidents at these sites are reported to have caused 44 public fatalities and 25 injuries between 1983 and 2010. Furthermore, they also published a review of key lessons to prevent injuries during educational demonstrations of flammable chemicals.

Six Year Review of US Chemical Safety Board Investigations

Six Year Review of US Chemical Safety Board Recommendations

Six Year Review of US Chemical Safety Board Closed to Date

Public Outreach

In addition to incident investigations the CSB has provided a significant level of public resources and educational material. These include incident reports, extensive photographing and reconstruction of accident processes, and creating safety videos.

Since 2011 the CSB has created 18 safety videos with a combined total of 1.85 million views on Youtube. They have also held community meetings in the Freedom Industries Chemical Release Incident (September 2016, Charleston, West Virginia), West Fertilizer Explosion and Fire (January 2016, Waco, Texas), the Macondo Blowout and Explosion incident (June 2014, Houston, Texas), and Chevron Refinery Fire (January 2014, Richmond, California).

Two reports and videos that have had significant impact on safety in university education are those on the Texas Tech University Chemistry Lab Explosion (January 2010, 1 Injury) and the Report “Key Lessons for Preventing Incidents from Flammable Chemicals in Education Demonstrations“. Both of these investigations included gut-wrenching videos demonstrating the potential severity of laboratory accidents when safety management principals are not followed in education (Link1, Link2).

Texas Tech University chemistry lab explosion
Photograph of Texas Tech Laboratory accident where a graduate student was severely injured when the chemical he was working with detonated.

Personal Uses

At the time of writing I have five CSB incident reports in folders beside my desk. I am in the late stages of my PhD so they are filed along with a couple hundred other papers relevant to gas and dust explosion research.

Throughout my undergraduate and graduate degrees, CSB videos were often shown as educational material in classrooms and for case-study assignments. Personally, I have referenced several in my comprehensive examination, PhD research proposals, and journal/conference publications.

Since the proposed budget was released, I have had a lot of feedback from people from the myDustExplosionResearch.com newsletter and from the online combustible dust community. I thought it would be useful to share some of their feedback here to highlight their thoughts:

“An ill thought out move by the current administration. For an annual budget of $12 million they provided an huge bang for the buck. They are the ones that made code enforcement aware of the serious hazards of dust explosions” Dr. Ashok Dastidar, Fauske & Associates

“With the closure of the CSB, it is clear America is returning to the dark ages…” Adrie van Beek, Trinseo/Styron LLC

“Few industrial salesmen and many manufacturers do not know much about combustible metal dust. The CSB was a good place to send salesmen and customers to get education on these hazards.” Denise Duncan, A T Industrial Products

Public Response

Before finishing off this post, I wanted to include some comments that I have seen from the general public with regards to this news. These were taken from Twitter and Youtube and help demonstrate the impact of the Chemical Safety Board both within North America and Internationally.

Twitter

The following are some comments from people on Twitter reacting to the proposal to eliminate the Chemical Safety Board:


Twitter Comment from TheRealSeanV


Twitter Comment from @SafetyPreacher


Twitter Comment from @NireSmith


Twitter Comment from @Hussain_5


Twitter Comment from @PSIntegrity

Youtube

The following are some comments from people on Youtube responding to the Chemical Safety Board videos:


Youtube comment from Edithsanti


Youtube Comment from Nathan Burkhalter


Youtube comment from Carbon


Conclusion

With an annual budget of $11-12 million dollars per year and a staff of 40, the US Chemical Safety Board has significantly enhanced the global safety of chemical and processing industries. Four areas that were highlighted in the current review are:

  • Providing an average of 32 recommendations per year to regulatory agencies, industry organizations, and labor groups.
  • Increasing industry awareness for specific hazardous materials (e.g., Combustible Dust) and providing training material.
  • Providing case studies and educational material for students and researchers.
  • Increasing the global status of the United States world-wide as a country committed to the safety of its people.

What Do You Think?

If you have any thoughts on the elimination of the CSB, I would love to hear them!

Share your thoughts using the comment box at the bottom of the page, or email chris@myDustExplosionResearch.com to reach out.

Also, use the social sharing buttons below for Linked In, Twitter, and Facebook to help spread the great work of the Chemical Safety Board!