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.

Key:

  • = No Ignition
  • = Explosion
  • = Fire
Hydrogen Incident Summaries by Equipment and Primary Cause/Issue
Equipment / Cause Equipment Design or Selection Component Failure Operational Error Installation or Maintenance Inadequate Gas or Flame Detection Emergency Shutdown Response Other or Unknown
Hydrogen Gas Metal Cylinder or Regulator   3/31/2012
4/30/1995
2/6/2013
4/26/2010 12/31/1969     3/17/1999
11/1/2001
12/23/2003
Piping/Valves 4/4/2002
2/2/2008
5/11/1999
4/20/1987
11/4/1997
12/31/1969
8/19/1986
7/27/1991
12/19/2004
2/6/2008
10/3/2008
4/5/2006
5/1/2007
9/19/2007
10/31/1980
2/7/2009 1/24/1999
2/24/2006
6/8/1998
12/31/1969
2/7/2009

9/1/1992
10/31/1980

10/3/2008  
Tubing/Fittings/Hose   9/23/1999
8/2/2004
8/6/2008
9/19/2007
1/1/1982 9/30/2004
10/7/2005
  10/7/2005  
Compressor   10/5/2009
6/10/2007
8/21/2008
1/15/2019
    10/5/2009 8/21/2008  
Liquid Hydrogen Tank or Delivery Truck 4/27/1989 12/19/2004
1/19/2009
8/6/2004 12/31/1969   1/1/1974 12/17/2004
Pressure Relief Device 7/25/2013
5/4/2012
1/15/2002
1/08/2007
12/31/1969        
Instrument 1/15/2019 3/17/1999
12/31/1969
2/6/2013
    11/13/73    
Hydrogen Generation Equipment 7/27/1999     10/23/2001      
Vehicle or Lift Truck   7/21/2011         2/8/2011
12/9/2010
Fuel Dispenser   8/2/2004
5/1/2007
6/11/2007
9/19/2007
  2/24/2006
1/22/2009
     
Fuel Cell Stack            

5/3/2004
12/9/2010
2/8/2011

Hydrogen Cooled Generator       12/31/1969
2/7/2009
     
Other (floor drain, lab
anaerobic chamber,
heated glassware,
test chamber,
gaseous hydrogen
composite cylinder,
delivery truck)
  11/14/1994
7/21/2011
7/27/1999
6/28/2010
8/21/2008
12/31/1969
3/22/2018
    6/10/2019
  • = No Ignition
  • = Explosion
  • = Fire