An explosion occurred at a chemical plant in an analysis room containing various analyzer instruments, including a gas chromatograph supplied with hydrogen. A contract operator was performing work to install a new vent line to a benzene analyzer that was part of a group of CO2 analyzers, but separate and unrelated to the gas chromatograph. During the process of this work, a plant supervisor accompanying the contract operator doing the work had an indication of flammable gas present on a portable detector. This was in conflict with the fixed gas detector in the analysis room that was indicating that no flammable gas was present. As a precaution, the plant supervisor immediately cut off the hydrogen supply and, along with the contract operator, began the normal task of determining if view more

Incident Synopsis
During a standard testing procedure, a 3,000 psig relief valve actuated at normal line pressure, releasing gaseous H2. The gaseous H2 combined with air, resulting in an explosion which damaged the test facility.

Cause
The relief valve was improperly set to open at line pressure, and the inspection was inadequate in that it didn't identify this error. Contributing cause was poor design of the venting system, which was installed in a horizontal position, causing inadequate venting and buildup of static electricity.