Safety Insight: Reactive Chemical Case Studies: How to Apply These Lessons to Your Operation

Jul 2019

Reactive Chemical Case Studies

What Causes Reactive Chemical Incidents?

Incidents caused by reactive chemical hazards continue to occur in the manufacturing industry, resulting in loss of life, property damage, and negative environmental impact. There are many federal regulations and best industry practices that can be leveraged to identify reactive chemical hazards (what can happen), evaluate their potential impact (how bad can it be), and develop appropriate strategies to manage the risk.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has investigated several incidents related to reactive chemicals. The CSB outlines root causes and communicates lessons learned within their thorough reports and website, www.csb.gov.

Several common causes include the following:

  • Less than adequate reactive hazard recognition and training for staff working near or making changes to the operation
  • Less than adequate hazard analysis to consider what might happen during a process upset or if an error is made
  • Less than adequate process knowledge and documentation for the reactive chemicals and chemistries being used
  • Less than adequate reactive hazard program and oversight at the facility

What can be done to prevent Chemical Reactive Incidents?

Facilities that use chemicals should have a reactive chemical hazard management program. The importance of having a program applies to any size or type of operation and is not limited to operations regulated by OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM) standard or the EPA’s Risk Management Plan (RMP) rule.

A robust reactive chemistry program should include aspects that can be applied to both existing and new processes; addresses changes made over the facility’s lifecycle; and take special considerations for chemistry development and scale-up operations.

The program should ensure that each reactive chemistry operation have management systems to identify and maintain the following:

  • Identify and communicate the safe operating parameters needed to prevent an unintended or runaway reaction
  • Ensure there is a documented process hazard analysis (PHA) that includes what mitigation (alarms, emergency quench systems, relief systems and effluent considerations) are needed to mitigate the potential hazards, including any necessary back-up systems
  • Perform engineering design analysis for scale up concerns (e.g. heat transfer and reaction kinetics)
  • Ensure both operations and technical staff are trained on the reactive hazards and mitigation needed to maintain safe operations

Where do you start?

A great place to start when building a reactive chemical hazard program is to properly identify and characterize hazards. This can be done by conducting both a literature review and conducting hazard testing in partnership with an appropriate laboratory.

The investigative process should aim to obtain the following information:

  • Runaway reaction, side reaction, and thermal decomposition potentials during process upsets
  • Understand the energy and mass balance of the intended chemistry, including the heat of reaction, gas generated, and types of byproducts
  • Conduct scale-up testing that includes a reaction kinetic evaluation and/or adiabatic testing to understand heat transfer dynamics
  • Conduct a thorough emergency pressure relief system sizing and effluent analysis

Once the results are obtained, it’s easier to know what kind of engineering design and safety mitigation is needed to manage risk.

Have questions? Let us be your trusted Advisor.

Contact us to discuss your reactive chemical concerns, schedule testing, or to provide training services tailored for your needs at your facility.

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