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Gulf of Mexico Platform Explosion Caused by Hot Work

Investigations continue into the explosion that occurred on the West Delta 32 platform in the Gulf of Mexico on Friday morning.

Initial theories point to the possibility that a cutting torch ignited flammable materials aboard the platform; even John Hoffman, the COE of Black Elk (the company that owned the rig) suggested that ‘hot work’ could have led to the explosion.

Activities that involve burning or welding are called ‘hot work’, and they have been blamed for more than 60 deaths in the US over the past twenty years.

Hot work is such a dangerous activity on platforms that the federal Chemical Safety Board demands that companies monitor the air for spiking levels of flammable gas before using any tools.

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Companies working on offshore rigs must apply welding plans for approval before any work can begin, and carry welding permits; however it is unknown whether the law requires companies to stop all hot work if gas detectors reveal dangerous levels of flammable materials in the area. Although surely common sense would suggest that action.

Accidents can often occur on platforms as a result of poor communication, and misunderstood directives. All of the casualties of the explosion were Filipino, so the possibility remains that they were unsure of the equipment instructions, or the company’s hot work policies. The insurance company FM Global also concluded from one study that the risk of fires increases on platform when outside contractors are left to work without constant supervision, and no Black Elk employees were on site at the time.

One worker was killed, several injured — two critically — and one is still missing.

By. Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com



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