Severity
Incident
Leak
Yes
Ignition
Yes
Ignition Source
Open Flame

A laboratory technician died and three others were injured when hydrogen gas being used in experiments leaked and ignited a flash fire.

The incident occurred in a 5,700-square-foot, single-story building of unprotected non-combustible construction. The building was not equipped with automatic gas detection or fire suppression systems.

Employees in the laboratory were conducting high-pressure, high-temperature experiments with animal and vegetable oils in a catalytic cracker under a gas blanket. They were using a liquefied petroleum gas burner to supply heat in the process.

Investigators believe that a large volume of hydrogen leaked into the room through a pump seal or a pipe union, spread throughout the laboratory, and ignited after coming into contact with the operating LPG burner some 10 to 15 feet away. The flash fire engulfed the people in the room.

Other employees used portable fire extinguishers to extinguish the localized fires caused by the flash fire. The fire department received notification at 2:36 pm. Because the fires were extinguished by the time they arrived, fire fighters provided emergency care to the injured. Damage was estimated as $25,000.

Incident Date
Sep 01, 1992
Setting
Equipment
  • Heating Equipment
  • Open Flame Burner
When Incident Discovered
Lessons Learned

This incident emphasizes the need for proper gas detection and ventilation systems, as well as fire suppression systems, in laboratories using and storing hydrogen. This is especially true when open flame burners are in close proximity. Experienced consultants/engineers should be involved in the design of gas detection and ventilation systems before hydrogen cylinders are employed in any laboratory. Laboratories also need to develop a Standard Operating Procedure, requiring periodic maintenance on hydrogen systems to check fittings, valves, and all critical components to ensure proper functionality at all times.