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CSB recommends OSHA prohibit flammable gas blows during pipe-cleaning

Published on 9 August 2010
Pipe-cleaning has claimed a number 
of lives in recent times 

Statement by CSB chairperson Dr. Rafael Moure-Eraso has urged OSHA to adopt the CSB recommendation prohibiting flammable gas blows during pipe cleaning operations.

On June 28, 2010, at a public meeting in Portland, Connecticut, the Chemical Safety Board voted to issue eighteen urgent recommendations to various recipients, including OSHA, aimed at halting the dangerous practice of releasing large quantities of flammable gas in the presence of workers and ignition sources during cleaning operations. 

Six workers were killed, with numerous injured, on February 7, 2010, at the Kleen Energy power plant under construction in Middletown, Connecticut.

A recommendation to OSHA called for, among other things, the promulgation of regulations to prohibit the release of flammable gas to the atmosphere for the purpose of cleaning fuel gas piping.  

OSHA announced citations and proposed fines against construction companies and contractors at the Kleen Energy power plant construction site and announced a plan to notify natural gas power plant operators of the dangers of natural gas blows.

I was pleased that during his news conference, Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, stated his agency is studying the CSB recommendation to prohibit flammable gas releases during cleaning operations, and that OSHA agrees with the CSB that this problem must be addressed immediately.

The Practice of gas blowing is inherently unsafe

Dr. Michaels stated that OSHA likely does not have the authority to prohibit the use of flammable gases during pipe cleaning operations, and that promulgating such a regulation would take years. 

The CSB believes that OSHA does have adequate authority to take this action and to start the standard setting process at any time.  

The CSB found that the practice of gas blows is inherently unsafe. In its investigation into the Kleen Energy accident, the CSB found that several safe alternatives to pipe cleaning available to the industry are already in use, such as compressed air, nitrogen and the use of a solid cleaning device propelled by compressed air that is referred to as a pig. Furthermore, the CSB found companies have already begun to ban the practice. Also, at least one leading manufacturer of natural gas electric turbines, General Electric, has informed its customers it will not support the practice of gas blows to clear out pipes leading to the turbines. A GE official discussed this during the CSB public meeting held in Connecticut in June.

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