Long ago, HSE brought a prosecution of a waste solvent recovery firm, which had blown up their still. The still had no means of measuring the temperature in the base and they had been supplied, unwittingly with crystallisation liquors containing an organic material known to be thermally unstable.

I said in court, that mixing waste streams containing unknown contaminants, and heating them up to an unknown temperature was like playing Russian Roulette. The defence counsel took objection to my analogy, but a recent Bulgarian story reminds us that you dont even need heat to make some chemical mixtures explode, and that some science teachers lack an understanding of safe work practises. See. this piece from the Darwin awards.

A steady flow of incidents arise from misuse of flammable liquids, particularly petrol, which is so readily available in quantity. Far too many people do not appreciate how far the vapour can spread, how fast flames will travel across the surface of a liquid pool, and the consequences of igniting liquid within some sort of confined space. You tube has a series of incidents involving petrol and bonfires which illustrate the points, but they are classified as comedy!

Misuse of petrol at work can of course be a criminal act.

Scottish Adhesives was a company in Glasgow at which a double fatality occurred in August 1996. In part of their process a granular resin was added through a tundish to a mixer containing a highly flammable hydrocarbon solvent. This is always a dangerous operation, electrostatic discharges capable of igniting vapour are readily formed when pouring powders or granular products.

An ignition inside the mixing vessel vented through the opening in the lid, and carried with it a few litres of solvent. Other open containers were immediately involved, and there was a flash fire in the room. Although it was only 5m travel distance to an exit from the room, 2 operators never made it.

See the Storey Bros Lancaster page on this site for a spectacular incident involving flammable vapours and an incineration plant

It can’t happen here?
“Fire crews battled the flames at their own training base yesterday (16 May 09) when the Fire Service College in Moreton-in-Marsh caught fire.

The internationally-renowned site which trains fire fighters around the world was the scene of a huge blaze at 9.15am.
Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service sent 58 fire fighters to the single storey workshop building on the site, measuring 16m by 30m, which had caught alight.

  • Crews from two other counties assisted.
  • The building contained 1200 litres of diesel and 500 litres of hydraulic fuel.
  • 12 appliances have been severely damaged by the flames along with the equipment inside the workshop.
  • The fleet of engines were worth a total of £1.3 million and belonged to the Fire Service.
  • No-one was injured and fire crews remained at the scene until around 4pm.
  • An investigation is in progress to establish the cause but Fire college staff said the other buildings and the training fleet were undamaged so business at the site will carry on as usual. “