How does PSM play with mixing chemicals?

In October 2016, there was a chemical spill at a grain company in Atchison, KS where over 100 people were treated for chemical exposure. Luckily, there was no loss of life in the industrial accident. Let’s take a look at how Process Safety Management (PSM) may have been involved to keep this accident from being much worse! There are 14 elements of PSM and each one is important in preventing or minimizing industrial accidents. Without getting the full report from the company, it is difficult to know exactly what happened to cause the chemical spill, however it is still possible to speculate how PSM played a role.

It was reported that two chemicals were mistakenly mixed in a holding tank, producing a chemical cloud. One PSM element that may impact this is Process Hazard Analysis (PHA). During the PHA, all possible mis-routings should be identified. Therefore, if it was possible through the piping of the system to have two chemicals mix that shouldn’t, it would be covered in the PHA. During that process, the hazard and potential consequences would be identified and ranked based on a risk matrix. Generally, if a hazard has a high likelihood of happening or would affect a greater area than immediately around the tank, there would be safeguards required to reduce the risk to an acceptable level. Of course, the definition of “acceptable level” is left to interpretation and each facility chooses its own risk tolerance.

There were no major injuries associated with this accident, which would lead one to believe the company has an adequate Emergency Plan. A major component of the Emergency Plan is to practice the plan. Since there was a quick response from the local media and emergency response, that shows there is a plan and there has been practice for emergencies.

Going hand-in-hand with Emergency Planning in this incidence, would be Training. The operators would need to be well trained in the operation of the process in order to be able to react quickly and appropriately to minimize damage to the process and the surrounding community. The plume had the potential to be much larger if the system was not able to be shut-down properly and in a timely manner.

What elements of PSM do you think were at play in this situation? What elements are K and K Process able to help you with? Let us know in the comments.