If anyone is interested in further reading theres a book available by the same name - 'Fire in the night'. Its a gripping, if harrowing, read and obviously goes into much more detail and first hand accounts of the accident.
I work/worked in a Functional Safety role within oil and gas industry both onshore and offshore and like most others on this thread I find the PA disaster difficult to digest each time I look at it. As some of you have already mentioned PA did have a PTW system in place, unfortunately it was not robust enough to prevent the start of the chain of events that eventually resulted in such loss of life.
For those of you that may be of the opinion something like this couldn't happen again. Dont be. The risk of an incident of this magnitude happening again is ever present. There have been several notable accidents I can draw to your attention:Buncefield Oil Depot Fire
- Largest explosion in the UK since World War 2. 20 large hydrocarbon storage tanks destroyed, wide spread damage, luckily no fatalities.
The cause? - multiple reasons including:
Poor maintenance of High Level Safety Switches
Poor transmission of safety critical product bulletins from manufacturers
LIMITED ABILITY FOR THE BUNCEFIELD DEPOT TO STOP INCOMING SUPPLIES FROM UK REFINERIES (ring a bell with PA anyone?)
poor tank monitoring systems (the operators used a manual timer to infer tank capacity)
insufficient bund integrity (holes in the concrete wall)
The list goes on, and there are a few others I have not listed here. Texas City Refinery Explosion
- Large explosion as a distillation column is brought back online following a maintenance outage. Unfortunately several dead following ignition of the vapour cloud from an idling diesel truck in the vicinity.
The cause? - multiple reasons again:
- Failure of the column level gauging system resulting in an overfill of materials into an atmospheric vent header system, subsequent geysering of material from the vent resulting in the formation of a flammable vapour cloud.
- Poor handover during shift operations
- Inoperative Alarms
- Poor Procedures
- Poor Management of Change (MoC) allowing contractor cabins to be sited too close to the hazardous area! (many of the perished workers were inside these cabins)
Other notable incidents include Flixbrough
, Hickson and Welsh
(although this may be attributed to natural causes, there were failings in plant design, such as geographically siting of redundant back up generators next to each other.
Anyway I guess the point I'm trying to get at is the risk is always there and unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a step change in industry until we experience a Major Accident Hazard.
Final sobering image:
This was the aftermath of an incident in 2006 on the Rough 47/3B platform where I used to work. Coming back online following a maintenance outage the plant experienced a material failure resulting in a hydrocarbon gas release of several tonnes per second. The release was of such magnitude the atmosphere within the confines of the deck space quickly exceeded the Upper Explosive Limit (meaning there was not enough oxygen to combust). It wasnt until the gas cloud permeated over the side of the platform it was then sucked back into the power generation turbines and mixed with oxygen that it exploded.
Luckily nobody died, although there were several injuries, mostly burns.
This one is particularly interesting as it is likely material xray inspection would not of picked it up. The material failure was found to be the result of a previous unknown corrosive interaction between two metals over the course of several (+15) years.