Forensic Engineers and Consultants

Archive: LP and Natural Gas

Testing As Part of Gas Appliance Incident Investigation

Equipment and appliances supplied with fuel gases like natural gas, propane and butane are a common and convenient part of most of our lives.  Such devices as gas grills and ranges, ovens, furnaces, space heaters and water heaters usually perform without incident.  However, when they malfunction the potential for incidents such as fires and explosions, carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and burn injuries may occur. These incidents may be due to design and manufacturing defects in the product, or improper installation or operation of the device.

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An example of a process flow diagram

OSHA’s Process Safety Management – Is This Process Covered?

In February of 1992, the OSHA Process Safety Management (PSM) standard was issued. The official title is: ‘Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals.’ As its title implies, not every facility is covered by this rigorous standard. A process must contain highly hazardous, as defined by OSHA, chemicals above a certain weight threshold, again defined by OSHA. Notice that this is a process by process determination, so there could be certain processes at a manufacturing facility that are not covered by this standard situated beside other processes that are.
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A corroded boiler tube

Boiler Blowdown – It’s Not a Dance Move

When thinking about the safe operation of boilers (and don’t we all?), several systems can readily be named; flame control, fuel/air ratio; steam pressure control, levels in the vessel, etc. What about the water? It seems so passive, as long as there is enough for level control, what’s the big deal? Well, it turns out, that as the steam produced by a boiler is used in the process, the condensate from that steam is returned to the boiler as feedwater. However, since 100% of the condensate is not returned, whatever solids had been in that water before it evaporated to form steam are left in the remaining water.  Fresh feedwater is added to maintain levels, but even fresh water contains some dissolved solids. So over time, the water in the boiler system gets saturated with all sorts of dissolved minerals.
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Really thick book - Fig 2 (002)

How a Central Indian Town Changed the United States Code of Federal Regulations

On December 3, 1984, at a pesticide ingredient manufacturing facility owned by Union Carbide, a leak occurred in the Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) plant. Due to the toxic nature of the gases released and the plant’s proximity to local residences, the death toll was in the thousands; both plant workers and nearby residents.  The first recorded public meeting in response to this incident was on December 9th, in Institute, WV, the site of Union Carbide’s only US MIC production unit.  Full disclosure: my father was a research & development chemist for Union Carbide and Institute is about 10 miles down the Kanawha River from my hometown of Charleston, WV. Read More

Cooker - Figure 2

Commercial Gas-Fired Cookers Can Do More Than Burn

The first hazard that comes to mind when thinking about large scale ovens and steam kettles is burning or scalding injury. Carbon monoxide poisoning is just as dangerous but less understood, so oftentimes proper prevention methods are not followed. In the United States, this results in over 20,000 emergency room visits and over 400 deaths a year. Before we get to the case study and poisoning prevention methods, we need to know what CO is, where it comes from, and why it is poisonous. Read More

Fig-1-Chem-E-Intro

Chemical Engineers: More than Glorified Plumbers – Really!

As a senior at Virginia Tech, I was told that ChemE’s were little more than glorified plumbers.  Looking back, I’m pretty sure it was to keep our geek-egos in check. It was an effective tool! However, as I grew and traveled as a professional, it became an effective descriptor; applying to a larger scale and using a modifier or two for specific applications.  So, if you have a loss that falls into one of the categories below, a ChemE could be the expert you need. Read More

In new water heaters, the combustion air holes have been replaced with a flame arrestor that lets vapors in but will not let the ignited vapors flash back to the pool of flammable vapors.

Preventing Fugitive Vapor Explosion with Design

For years, many water heater-related fires, injuries, property damage claims, and deaths were attributed to “consumer misbehavior.” By 2002, however, the NFPA National Fuel Gas Code began to reflect several key realizations: the existence of fugitive vapors and how appliance design can limit the risks they pose. Read More

A proper thermometer that includes an indication of dangerous temperatures and a needle stop.

Product Design is Critical to Consumer Safety

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As the holiday season nears, thoughts turn to wonderful home cooked meals with family.  Few things in life are more pleasurable than a traditional holiday turkey feast. Yet for an unfortunate few, holiday meal time can turn tragic if a turkey frying accident occurs.   While fried turkeys may be tasty, many fire safety experts feel that the reward is not worth the risk.  In fact, UL will not list a turkey fryer, even though a product safety standard, ANSI Z21.89 Outdoor Cooking Specialty Gas Appliances covers the product.  Additionally, the National Fire Protection Association discourages their use.  Links to these organizations’ statements on turkey fryers are included at the end of this blog. Consulting those links and watching a few online videos of a turkey fryer catching fire can be insightful, and a bit sobering, if you are thinking of frying a turkey.  Read More

[SLIDESHARE] Ovens and Furnaces

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Safety through design is a critical consideration in oven and furnace manufacturing. This slideshow takes a look at industry standards governing their design and identifies common safety oversights. Read More

An open fuel supply line was found during the explosion investigation.

Code Violations Are Root of Fatal Explosion

The design and installation of gas piping systems in homes and commercial buildings is guided by a set of regulations called NFPA 54 — the National Fuel Gas Code. The code, which establishes minimum safety requirements, is also used by forensic engineers to evaluate an explosion to determine cause and responsibility. Read More

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