Print

Safety first, second, third, fourth

The recent tragic accident at a biodiesel plant in Spain reinforces the need to put safety first, last and at all points between
By Ron Kotrba | February 10, 2016

Over the weekend a tragic accident at the Biocom Energia biodiesel plant in Valencia, Spain, claimed the lives of two workers and injured a third.

I feel deeply sorry for the victims and their families. Your loved one goes to work in the morning and when you part for the day, you don’t anticipate it being the last time you will ever see them. How awful that must be.

The company issued a statement Feb. 7 expressing its deepest condolences to the families of the victims, and its support and solidarity with the injured survivor.

The accident happened when the three workers were welding on top of an empty tank. The hot work was planned and communicated, according to Biocom Energia. All of the necessary permits were obtained and the company used “appropriate security protocol,” Biocom Energia relayed in the statement. Despite all of these measures, the company said “the container exploded for unknown reasons.”

Even though Biocom Energia said the container exploded for unknown reasons, it stated the causes of the incident are known, and it is working intensively on the inquiry in order to clarify the reasons for the incident. Biocom Energia is making available all the information needed by the Valencian Institute for Safety and Health at Work and other organizations investigating the accident.

I have been with Biodiesel Magazine for more than a decade covering this industry, writing countless articles on safety (and the lack thereof), and I can’t tell you how many similar unfortunate incidents I have seen in that time. These types of explosions are often the result of highly volatile methanol fumes still resident in “empty” tanks.

And we have seen and heard about other accidents at biodiesel plants, some for instance where plastic tanks coupled with out-of-code electrical work and fiberglass instead of foam insulation fueled fires out of control, putting workers and nearby residents at unnecessary risk.

How many times must these accidents occur before people know and understand the risks, and mitigate them soundly through proper procedures and equipment? One more time is 100 too many.

The biodiesel industry must put safety first, second, third, fourth…all the way down the line to protect its workers and communities, and reclaim headlines back from these tragic accidents in order to shift attention onto the myriad of positives this fuel—this industry—can achieve.