Inspections Matter

No certified inspector ever performed an internal inspection of the failed vessel during the six years it was in use, according to CSB's video.

One more reminder from the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board about why thorough inspections matter (along with correcting any problem you find thereby): Stress corrosion cracking in the 8-inch-thick steel wall of a pressure vessel caused its catastrophic failure on Dec. 7, 2009, at the NDK Crystals, Inc. plant in Belvidere, Ill., according to an investigative report approved by the board Nov. 14, 2013. That vessel was 120 days into a 150-day crystal manufacturing cycle when it ruptured. NDK did not inspect any of the plant's eight pressure vessels, and the cracking in this one went undetected for years, the board determined, as illustrated in its "Falling Through the Cracks" video about the explosion.

The blast hurled projectiles more than 200 yards, killing a motorist at a nearby filling station and injuring someone in a nearby building when a piece of debris crashed through a wall.

A consultant hired by NDK's insurer investigated an earlier accident, when hot, caustic material leaked from another vessel's lid, found that stress corrosion cracking had caused it, and strongly recommended that the pressure vessels not be returned to service, but NDK did not follow that recommendation. No certified inspector ever performed an internal inspection of the failed vessel during the six years it was in use, according to CSB's video. The video was released simultaneously with the CSB investigation report.

"The video dramatically describes the important findings of the CSB investigation: Pressure vessels did not meet code requirements, but were granted an exemption; internal corrosion inspections were recommended but never performed; and finally, a specific warning was made to the company by its insurer. But at every level, the risk of catastrophic vessel failure was overlooked and public safety, literally and figuratively, fell through the cracks," CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso said.

"The video shows how cracking on and near the inner diameter of the vessel fragment reduced the vessel material toughness, which eventually led to large flaws resulting in the catastrophic failure," CSB Lead Investigator Johnnie Banks added.

This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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