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Posted 13 Dec 2021
Another year goes by and still the Grenfell Inquiry reveals alarming information about the whole regulatory system. Evidence from Barry Turner , technical head at the LBC shows a body that Kingspan had learnt how to manipulate, that issued certificates with a wholly unsatisfactory process, ignored well based complaints about them, and took money from Kingspan. The sheer number of bodies involved in regulation is notable; local authority building control depts, their coordinating body the LABC, independent companies offering approved inspector services, the test house BRE, BSI who issued test procedures based on the single rig at BRE, the certification body the BBA, a technical department in whatever the central government department was called at different times, and a industry trade association with no legal standing,the NHBC. All contributed to a complete failing in the system of control.
Posted 14 Dec 2020
Ex equipment assessment UK
Brexit requires all those who want to issue conformity assessment for Ex equipment in the UK to register as a UKCA Approved Body. A quick look round the UK government website, which is probably not up to date, shows that those currently registered are SGS Baseefa, Intertek, Eurofins CML, Sira, Ex Veritas and FM. Advertising elsewhere suggests that CSA , UL and DNV are also registered or in process of registering. Note the international nature of this business, FM and UL are American companies, SGS is Swiss, DNV is Norwegian, ExVeritas has Danish roots, but is an independent UK company

Posted 9 Nov 2020
For a couple of months now I’ve been following the evidence at the Grenfell Inquiry. Earlier we had all the players who actually had direct involvement with the refurbishment of the tower, and we find a chaotic chain of control, with a hopelessly confusing interaction of responbilities. It is easy to criticise RBKC as ‘project managers’ and building control authority as well as client, when they hadn’t the resources or expertise to do any of their tasks properly. Much worse was the system of a design and build contractor who had very few resources of their own, a string of subcontractors, very little understanding of fire hazards and which sidelined both the architects and fire engineers. This was set up to fail.Expert evidence shredded the action or inaction of both the fire consultancy Exova, and the architects Studio E.

However, the summary statements made by counsel for the next phase of the inquiry this week expose far, far worse. Three suppliers of panels, all chasing the same market, all exploited without care for safety to any degree weaknesses in testing and reporting of these tests of their products to claim safety for their products which were clearly unsuitable for use on tall buildings. All knew well of earlier fires in tall buildings. BRE as a test house, and BBA as the certification body were captured by their customers, when they should have been independent.

Posted 22 September 2020
With the Grenfell inquiry still underway, and evidence that effectively no one from any of the companies involved in the overcladding contract understood the requirements in the Building Regulations concerning buildings over 18m , or understood the significance of late changes of products used, we do at least have government proposals for changes to the fire safety law as a draft building safety bill. Simple its not; 330 pages of legal text, and the need to make regulations under it. It does not even define the term higher risk building , but leaves this to further consultation. It does assign new functions to HSE, a regulator that seemed out of favour until recently.

Posted 17 Aug 2020
The explosion in Beruit on the 4th Aug shows again how foolish it is to store explosive material in a highly populated area. If the authorities could find no use for it, it could simply have been emptied into the sea, where it would dissolve and disperse quickly.

Posted 16 June 2020
One of the side effects of lockdown, has been finding time to scan and store large amounts of my archive material. Much of this is old guidance, but it contains technical advice that remains sound. If you’re looking for HSE guidance on many fire and explosion topics, but find it out of print, try me!
A separate side effect seems to have been the shut down of the courts, so Wood Treatment Ltd, who own the Bosley site mentioned below, still have not had their day in court, 5 years after the explosion.

Posted 08/11/2019
Today brings the news that the company, and a director that caused the wooddust explosion at Bosley , just 13 miles from the HSL laboratories where dust explosion research is carried out, have been charged with manslaughter by gross negligence. 4 people were killed in July 2015. The wheels of justice run very slowly.

Compare that with the prosecution of Pascal Blasio, who caused a gas explosion which injured 81 people, in Rock Ferry, Wirral. That explosion was in 2017, and after a retrial, the premises owner was convicted and imprisoned in October this year.

Posted 4/10/19
Deregulation seems to be back in the political agenda, but we need to remember, it often has a purpose that is later forgotten. Weak regulation played a part in allowing unsafe cladding to be fitted to Grenfell Tower and many other similar buildings. We do know how to do better, but unless the regulatory framework is adequate, cheap and cheerful will displace safer installations. This is not a Brexit issue, as building regulations are not controlled by the EU, for the simple reason that design standards suitable for a Swedish/Finnish winter, are probably not needed in Malta or Cyprus

Posted 14/04/19 Dust explosions are a serious topic, but I couldn’t resist adding this cartoon from Private Eye, which shows a proposed way of scaling the Trump Wall on the Mexican border. Don’t try this at home folks!

Posted 21 Sept 2018
This is a story from ASDA in Morecambe, not far from my home. They have a petrol station on site, and last December, a woman refuelling her Fortwo Pulse car tried to put fuel into the wrong opening, seemingly an air intake filter with a detachable cap. It allowed fuel to enter the interior of the car. A serious fire occurred when she went to start the car. She was lucky to be pulled out by a by-stander Surely a simple design change would prevent this error.

Posted 17/10/17

Extract from History of Warton Parish , written in 1740 by John Lucas, republished 2017 by one of my neighbours.

‘Dr Lucas tells us that the houses in Paris are all made of stone, walls staircases, floors and all, so that malice itself can hardly set them on fire; whereas at London adds he, every man that goes to bed, when asleep, lies like a dead Roman on a funeral pile, dreading some unexpected apotheosis, for all is combustible about him, and the rosin and paint of the deal boards may serve for incense, the quicker to burn him to ashes.

270 years on, I might not put it that way, but residents of ‘upgraded’ tower blocks, all round the UK might well agree

Posted 15/06/17
Investigation of the Grenfell fire is going to take a long time, and reopen the debate about flammable materials used as insulation. Sandwich panels (steel-foam-steel) used in industrial buildings proved hard to test in a meaningful way for fire performance , and precise details on how to use these safely were not easy to define. There is a good review by BRE for ABI (insurers) dating from 2003. The building regulations manual on fire safety ADB is way behind the times in giving guidance on flammable cladding. With far more lives at risk, we have to be much more careful in using similar materials to upgrade residential high-rise blocks than with industrial buildings. On the Summerland page of this site you will find my observation ‘If at an early stage the building itself is fuel for the fire, you are likely to be in big trouble.’ That remains true.

Posted 19/03/17
Time to learn the lesson
Today the BBC broadcast a programme on radio 5 live highlighting the fire risks of medicines or ointments applied to large areas of skin to treat eczema and psoriasis when they contain large amounts of liquid or soft greasy paraffin. They had identified substantial numbers of patients who have suffered serious or fatal injuries, usually as a result of smoking after treatment with flammable ointments.Industrial workers may who contaminate clothing with flammable materials are instructed to remove it as quickly as possible. Any employer who used a process which regularly contaminated clothing with such products would probably be in breach of DSEAR.

There is nothing new here. HSL provided a report in 2007 to the NHS demonstrating with lab work, the entirely predictable risks . The NHS advice to date is simply to advise patients of the danger, and to tell them not to smoke. Understandably with old or confused patients this is ineffective. There’s no indication that anyone has taken seriously the need for reformulation of the ointments.

Posted 19/10/16
Next week marks the 10th anniversary of the formation of Tyldesley Explosion Consultancy Ltd, and I’m slightly surprised to be still working and maintaining this site. But people still locate this site, and ask if I’m willing to help them with making their plants safe, and selectively I do take work on. Very slowly, I’m also scanning in old documents from my HSE days, often showing that old lessons have been forgotten.

Posted 14/06/16
I’m a little late adding this, but its worth noting that the Energy Institute have finally published in March the guide to Safe Handling and Storage of biomass at thermal power stations, written mainly by myself, with input from Steve Kershaw. A complete text left me over a year earlier. I thought BSI and CEN publishing processes were slow, but they are not alone! The rush to build new biomass storage may be over, but the guide covers issues relating to ongoing operational controls, and I hope it is helpful to existing operators of these very large stores.

Posted 27/04/16
Last week saw the publication by BSI of standards BS EN ISO 80079-36, and 80079-37. These are replacements for the main parts of EN 13463, the standards for non electrical equipment intended for use in explosive atmospheres. So, 22 years after the original ATEX directive brought into scope many types of mechanical equipment, and 15 years after the first standard for such equipment, we now have two international standards. That must be around 50 meetings of experts in different working groups at EN and ISO level. In reality these documents make only minor changes to the earlier EN versions, and the most obvious effect of the ISO documents will be equipment marked with type of protection ‘h’. For those who make new equipment, or those who work regularly in this field, ever changing rules on marking are not a problem, but if you have equipment in your factory of different ages, some marked using the scheme in the directive, and the scheme in the EN standard and some with ISO markings, trying to understand the information it provides is far from easy.


Posted 27/11/15
Time to move on. This week I handed on the role of chair for BSI committee EXL/23 ‘explosion and fire precautions in industrial and chemical plant’. I received in return a distinguished service certificate from BSI for 25 years service on this committee. I am pleased that David Long from Protego is taking over. He has extensive experience at BSI, CEN and ISO committees, with particular expertise on flame arrestors. Back in September, I passed on my role as convenor of CEN TC 305 WG2 to Graham Ackroyd from Syngenta. I’m now winding down my involvement in technical work

Posted 13/08/15
Just a few facts seem clear about the Tianjin explosion.
Fire preceded the explosions, and just as at West, Texas, many fire fighters were killed because they were unaware of the risks they faced.

The quantity of explosives stored at the port was excessive, given the nature of the product. HSE implemented regulations on this in 1987, and set quantity limits based on the type of explosives, surrounding buildings and population.

Storage of dangerous chemicals with explosives close enough for either to interact with the other must be tightly controlled. In the aftermath of a fire or explosion involving mixed dangerous chemicals it is practically impossible to give any reassurance about the acute health risks people nearby might face.
Posted 17/06/15
Thoughts on 10 years since leaving HSE
Next month will see the 10th anniversary of me leaving HSE and becoming a consultant, first for Burgoynes and then with Haztech. What have I learnt along the way?
Despite the most severe recession that any of us can remember, there is work out there, if you have a valuable skill
More work comes from new capital investment, than looking at existing plant. In my field that means power generation, not the chemical industry
Far too many companies have no one who really understands how their process works. If you can’t explain that, you are unlikely to understand how to control the risks
A huge expansion of codified knowledge and consensus good practice through the standards organisations is a real help to all who make use of it. Many of these documents I have from my position on standard committees, but a big thank you to Lancashire County Library, who provide reading access to much more
Technology imported from elsewhere does not come with all the problems solved, consider large scale biomass, anaerobic digesters, and in earlier years, sewage sludge drying

Posted 25/02/2015
The origins of major hazards input to land use planning
For 40 years it has been recognised that major industrial hazards should be sited away from large centres of population, but ask what brought about this policy, and you will get different answers from different places. In the UK, Flixborough (June 1974) was a wake up call, but so too was the analysis of hazards concentrated at Canvey Island in 1975, while in Italy, the explosion at Seveso (July 1976) awakened the same call for legislative action.
Over in the USA, an explosion at an LNG importing facility on Staten Island, New York in Feb 1973 caused the same concern. The 6 inch thick concrete roof of a 600,000 barrel underground tank was destroyed and much of it fell in. It resulted in the suspension of construction of 2 larger LNG tanks and a statewide moratorium on new LNG facilities. The statewide ban lasted until 1999 but only now is this moratorium being lifted within large urban areas.
The oddity of this response was that the tank was out of service when it exploded, with 40 or so workers inside repairing the polyurethane insulation. Seemingly fire preceded the explosion. Clearly the death toll was not a consequence of bulk storage of LNG, but inadequate controls for working in a confined space.

Posted 05/01/15
A postscript to the story of an aluminium dust explosion last August.
The NY Times reported on the 30 Dec, that the death toll had now risen to 146, in China’s worst industrial accident since 2005. Two top city officials have been fired, 18 other individuals are under investigation. It’s rather different from the enforcement style in the UK, where the company is more often prosecuted than the managers.

Posted 13/08/14
The news broke here on the 2nd Aug of a huge explosion at the factory of Kunshan Zongrong Metal Parts, in China. The factory was a supplier to GM China of alloy wheels and hubcaps. At the last count, the death toll was 75, with 186 injured. The site of the explosion seemed to be a unit polishing aluminium alloy castings. Reports suggest the dust was everywhere, and stuck not only to surfaces in the factory, but also to the skin of workers. If this burns in an explosion, you are liable to die of burn injuries some days later.
The aluminium federation in the UK published a leaflet about the hazards of polishing and linishing processes back in the 1970s.

Posted 23/06/2014
This week sees the 50th anniversary of an explosion at Marshalls Creek, Pennsylvania which led to a major change in the legislation concerning the transport of explosives in the USA. A lorry carrying 30t of blasting explosives and dynamite was stopped when the driver became aware of 2 flat tyres. He left the scene to phone for help. A fire started with the tyres, and soon after the truck exploded killing 6, including 3 volunteer firemen. The truck was not carrying warning placards.
The ripples from this can be seen in UK legislation, with a requirement for a driver and an attendant for bulk carrying of explosives, and a requirement for one to stay with the vehicles when it is parked up.
In case of fire with a vehicle and an explosives load, there is a difficult choice. What do you do first? Do you tackle the fire, call for help, or try and keep others away?

Posted 24/02/2014
A little after the event but I’d like to record that it is now 30 years since I started out as a fire and explosion specialist inspector for HSE. What has changed over those years?
* Almost all the law is now of European origin. I’m not sure if this is really a benefit.
* Far more is codified, as standards, industry codes, publications from the professional institutions or guidance from HSE. Quite a few of these documents have been across my desk during their development. That means there is less excuse for ignorance, but it is not easy to keep up to date with it all.
* A huge amount of information is available online, but much from the era before computers were on every desk is not easy to locate, or has been forgotten completely. I’ve tried to fill a few of these gaps in the pages on famous fires and other incidents.
* HSE has changed. Major hazards legislation and the fees for intervention system mean, I think, that HSE is much more of an arms length law enforcer, and has less scope for trying to be the friendly source of help to all.
* The chemical industry is much smaller than it was, and I don’t think I would ever get started now as a chemist in an chemical industry research laboratory

Posted 16 Oct 2013
Perhaps this is the last word on ICL. The Scottish Court of Session has rejected a claim by ICL against Johnson oils who supplied the gas which caused the explosion. In the judgement which decided that all the liability lay with ICL, Lord Hodge gave 5 reasons. ICL knew there was a risk from any leakage of gas; they did not ask JO for advice; the tests done at the time of tank exchange by JO were in line with industry practise at the relevant time, it was reasonable to make a clear demarcation line of responsibility between the gas supplier and the user, and JO did not know the pipeline entered an unventilated basement. It is however the case that industry practise and the guidance from the LP Gas Association has changed. Hopefully all the old steel pipework at small scale LPG tanks that was vulnerable to corrosion has by now been replaced.
Posted 07 Sept 2013
Fires are usually bad news for the factory where they occur, but sometimes they can have much more far reaching effects. A fire at a plant owned by the Korean firm SK Hynix lasted just an hour and a half. The plant is at Wuxi in China, and makes 15% of the world supply of dynamic RAM chips used in all PCs and many other devices. The markets responded with a 20% jump in world prices for these chips and rises in share prices for Samsung and the 3rd major supplier. Seemingly the fire was restricted to an HVAC plant. Typically such units are out of site and out of mind. Ignore them at your peril.

See this report from Reuters together with updates

Posted 05 Aug 2013
This week is the 40th anniversary of the fire at the Summerland leisure complex on the Isle of Man. This was a large multistory building (14,000 m2) which had opened in 1971. It contained some novel architectural features. An estimated 3000 were in the building when the fire started. 50 of these died in the blaze. The report of the committee of enquiry which followed is not freely available on the internet, and because of this, some of the lessons will never be passed on to the current generation of people who have responsibility for fire safety, whether that is at the design stage, or once a building is in use. Too much good information is never found by those who believe Bing or Google can provide all the answers. See separate page on this site

Posted 15 July 2013
Hazardous area classification guidance usually covers the treatment of vapour from liquid releases, and dispersion of flammable gases, but no one has yet found a way of estimating the extent of hazardous areas from releases of mists, though it is widely recognised that they can form an explosion hazard.This was graphically illustrated by an explosion on the 10th July which removed a section of the rear wall of a domestic apartment block leading to partial collapse and 12 casualties. Evidently the owner of the flat had set off 20 bug bombs which disperse insecticide as fine droplets, but not thought to turn off the pilot flame on her cooker. One can would have been enough to treat the flat concerned. More is not better. According to the New York Times these foggers cause around 500 fire and explosion incidents a year. It would be surprising if there were not also some cases of ill health caused by misuse of these devices.

Posted 24 Apr 2013

The UK is heading at great speed to utilise biomass as a fuel, for power generation at a whole series of old coal burning sites, and on a smaller scale for space heating in commercial premises with solid fuel boilers. It seems to attract relatively little media attention, perhaps as people feel  comfortable with the idea of burning wood.

It brings with it plenty of potential fire and explosion hazards. Biomass needs to be stored indoors to keep dry, but it has a tendency to self heat, and deep seated fires in silos are hard to extinguish and on a large scale many weeks may be required to regain control.

It creates fine dust , which is an obvious  dust explosion hazard, as well as having a comparatively low ignition temperature. It is also fluffier than coal and tends to spread more than coal dust.

The Scandinavians have used wood pellets for communal heating systems over many years , so the problems are not new, but that does not mean they have been solved. See for example Swedish research published at http://www.sp.se/en/centres/fuel_storage/publications/Sidor/default.aspx

The problems arise both at port storage facilities and power stations. We’ve seen some incidents in the UK but watch this space,  more seem likely..

Posted 21 Nov 2012

Sometimes the legal processes can last many years. The ICL factory that exploded in 2004 led to a criminal prosecution in 2006, followed by a public enquiry in 2008. I now understand that a civil claim by the ICL company has been raised claiming damages against Johnson Oils, of Bathgate. This company supplied gas to ICL at the time of the explosion. There is a real issue to be explored here; to what extent should an LPG  gas supplier taking over a contract to supply to an existing site, ask questions about existing installation pipework, before coupling up their gas supply? This question is due to be decided by the Scottish courts during 2013.

Unconnected with this, it is good to see the traditional mines safety lamp making a comeback. Electric lighting, and sophisticated gas detection systems have long replaced the miners lamp with the flame isolated from the external potentially gassy atmosphere by a suitable metal mesh. Now the lamp has found a highly visible use, to keep the Olympic flame alive as it travels around the UK, and on its way by air from Greece.

Posted 14 Feb 2012
Iron dust
Samples of iron dust and particles often have too much iron oxide mixed in to create an explosion hazard, but where the metal is atomised in reducing conditions to make a powder, the fire and explosion hazards are real. You might have hoped that a company claiming to be the ‘world leader in atomised metal powder technology’ would know this.

All the best incident reports in English now come from America, and the CSB has just issued a report on the Gallatin facility of Hoeganaes Corp. They managed 3 explosion incidents involving iron dust in a 6 month period in 2011, killing 5 people and injuring 3 more.

Testing showed the dust had a notably low KST value, older company data reported a value of just 15, while CSB data gave a value of 19 bar.m/s. A slow explosion is not a safe one if you are standing in the fireball. If you leave your fuel lying all over the premises, expect the worst.

Regrettably Hoeganaes has been a subsidiary of the UK firm GKN since 1999. Shame on you!

Posted 20 Dec 2011
This warning might now be too late for Christmas 2011, and I’ve never seen a domestic fryer big enough to take a complete turkey, but evidently you can buy these in America.
……John Elwood, Assistant Fire Chief for Sarasota County, Florida , is concerned about burns as well as fire. Enter the turkey fryer. Combine several gallons of boiling oil with a frozen-solid turkey and you get … an explosion of scalding oil. And a trip to the Tampa General Hospital’s Regional Burn Center.
Defrost the turkey. Before you fire up the burner, put the defrosted turkey in the kettle and add the appropriate amount of oil. Remove the turkey, then heat the oil and slide the bird back in for cooking. Otherwise it’s cooking with hand grenades.

The industrial equivalent is the explosive consequences of accidently adding water into molten metal.

Posted 4 Dec 2011

Sometimes American standards of precautions to control fire and explosion hazards leave me just amazed: ‘how could they do this?’ Two examples from the www.csb.gov website are worth highlighting.

The most recent comes from a csb report released in Oct 2011. This has an analysis of incidents at small oil production sites. These often have above ground storage tanks for oil products together with a nodding donkey. These isolated wells are unmanned but pump away slowly, until the surface tank is full and a tanker takes the product way. Evidently many are unfenced, and have no signs to indicate that they contain highly flammable oil or gas. Even more alarmingly, they often seem to have unlocked tanker hatches, with no flame arrestor. A match or cigarette nearby can then literally cause the tank to explode. Evidently California legislated to control the risks back in 1983, but other states did not follow and 44 members of the public have been killed since then.

An explosion which killed 6 people and injured 50 others occurred during planned work to clear debris from new assembled large diameter pipework at a gas fired power plant nearing the completion of construction. Natural gas at 45 bar was deliberately released from a vent just 6m above ground level in a congested area. Controls over ignition sources were minimal. 56,000 m3 of gas were released in 15 such gas blows during a single morning. 7000m3 of this gas was released in  10 minutes leading up to  the explosion.This was evidently common industry practice, not a rogue set of installers. A similar event had killed 4 and injured 67 just 8 months earlier.

‘Elf and Safety has an image problem in the UK, but someone has to provide an independent view of safe working practice, or we will kill workers and the public for lack of the simplest of safety precautions.

Posted 15 Aug

Some companies choose unfortunate names

Some people never read or follow instructions

Some products invite misuse

So when a company calls itself Bird Brain Inc, and sells a liquid fuel thickened so it forms a gel, perhaps we should fear the worst. At least it has not called its product napalm, but it might as well have done. It is based on isopropanol, and is probably easier to ignite than napalm, which is formulated to make it relatively safe to handle. See www.explodingfirepot.com/birdbrain-lawsuit/ to read what can happen when people don’t understand the dangers, and then ask what would happen if this got into the hands of those who wanted to cause danger and injury to others.

Do we need this stuff?

The explosion and fireball on the 13th July at a small industrial unit in Boston Lincolnshire has been widely reported to be the result of an illegal plant distilling alcohol for sale as vodka. 5 people were killed immediately.
The details of the process are not available at this time, but we do have an estimate of the size of the industrial unit where the plant was located. This has been reported as having a floor area around 50 m2, so perhaps has an internal volume of 200 m3. With a LEL of 60g/m3, a release of just 12kg of alcohol as vapour could entirely fill this unit with an explosive mixture. Loss of cooling to the still or fracture of a hot part of the equipment are the most obvious possible causes.

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