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 hydrogen compressor had been shut down for repairs and was being put back into service when an explosion occurred, resulting in property damage. The compressor was equipped with interchangeable intake and outlet valves.

Cause

The discharge valve was installed in the intake valve position, causing the cylinder head to blow off and release H2 to the atmosphere. The ignition source was not indicated.