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Reactor Accident

During routine startup of a chemical reactor an overpressure occurred that resulted in a steam release and severe burn injuries to the operator. Several potential root causes for the release were investigated.

An OHSA investigator had concluded that the steam was produced due to the heat of mixing of purge water with sulfuric acid that had not been flushed from the reactor after the last batch production. According to this theory, the chemical manufacturer was responsible for causing the accident. However, our thermodynamic analysis demonstrated that it would not have been possible for the heat of mixing to generate the steam. In fact, this scenario would have resulted in temperatures no higher than 85C.

Our investigation discovered that an outside contractor had improperly connected a process line to a heat exchanger during scheduled routine maintenance. This resulted in one of the reactants being introduced to the reactor at an elevated temperature. Thus, the outside contractor (not the chemical manufacturer) was responsible for the root cause of the accident.

incident reactor

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