Operators in a powdered metals production facility heard a hissing noise near one of the plant furnaces and determined that it was a gas leak in the trench below the furnaces. The trench carried hydrogen, nitrogen, and cooling water runoff pipes as well as a vent pipe for the furnaces.

Maintenance personnel presumed that the leak was nonflammable nitrogen because there had recently been a nitrogen piping leak elsewhere in the plant. Using the plant's overhead crane, they removed some of the heavy trench covers. They determined that the leak was in an area that the crane could not reach, so they brought in a forklift with a chain to remove the trench covers in that area.

Eyewitnesses stated that as the first trench cover was wrenched from its position by the forklift view more

Incident Synopsis
A technician was welding a cable suspended over a stainless steel H2 instrument line. During the welding process, two holes were accidentally burned through the hydrogen tubing. The operator heard a hissing sound and closed the valve, but the hydrogen had already ignited and it burned his hand while he was feeling for a leak.

Cause
A short during welding caused the pinholes in the tubing containing the gaseous H2.