Case Studies

Case studies:

Industrial accident

Industrial accidents are severe mishaps that result in injuries to people and damage to property or the environment. For example, an explosion or fire at a pyrotechnics manufacturing facility is an industrial accident, as is the accidental release of toxic chemicals to the environment when a storage tank fails. Types of industrial accidents vary from one place to the next, but most are a result of unsafe conditions and unsafe acts.

This article lists notable industrial disasters, which are disasters caused by industrial companies, either by accident, negligence or incompetence. They are a form of industrial accident where great damage, injury or loss of life are caused.

Other disasters can also be considered industrial disasters, if their causes are rooted in the products or processes of industry. For example, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 was made more severe due to the heavy concentration of lumber industry facilities, wood houses, and fuel and other chemicals in a small area. The Convention on the Trans boundary Effects of Industrial Accidents is designed to protect people and the environment from industrial accidents.The Convention aims to prevent accidents from occurring, to reduce their frequency and severity,and to mitigate their effects. The Convention addresses primarily industrial accidents in one country that affect the population or the environment of another country. The Convention was drafted following the Seveso disaster and Sandoz disaster.

Energy industry accidents;

  • October 1957: The Windscale fire, the worst nuclear accident in Great Britain's history, released substantial amounts of radioactive contamination into the surrounding area at Windscale, Cumberland (now Sellafield, Cumbria).
  • May 1962: The Centralia, Pennsylvania coal mine fire began, forcing the gradual evacuation of the Centralia borough. The fire continues to burn in the abandoned borough.
  • March 1967: The Torrey Canyon supertanker was shipwrecked off the west coast of Cornwall, England, causing an environmental disaster. This was the first major oil spill at sea.
  • August, 1975: The Banqiao Dam failed in the Henan Province of China due to extraordinarily heavy rains and poor construction quality of the dam, which was built during the Great Leap Forward. The flood immediately killed over 100,000 people, and another 150,000 died of subsequent epidemic diseases and famine, bringing the total death toll to around 250,000 and making it the worst technical disaster ever.
  • March 16, 1978: The Amoco Cadiz, a VLCC owned by the company Amoco (now merged with BP) sank near the northwest coast of France, resulting in the spilling of 68,684,000 US gallons of crude oil (1,635,000 barrels). This is the largest oil spill from an oil tanker in history.
  • March 28, 1979: Three Mile Island accident. Partial nuclear meltdown. Mechanical failures in the non-nuclear secondary system, followed by a stuck-open pilot-operated relief valve in the primary system, allowed large amounts of reactor coolant to escape. Plant operators initially failed to recognize the loss of coolant, resulting in a partial meltdown. The reactor was brought under control but not before up to 481 PBq (13 million curies) of radioactive gases were released into the atmosphere.
  • June 3, 1979: Ixtoc I oil spill. The Ixtoc I exploratory oil well suffered a blowout resulting in the third-largest oil spill and the second-largest accidental spill in history.
  • November 20, 1980: A Texaco oil rig drilled into a salt mine transforming Lake Peigneur, a freshwater lake before the accident, into a saltwater lake.
  • February 15, 1982: Newfoundland, Canada. The mobile offshore oil rig Ocean Ranger was struck by a rogue wave off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada and sank with the loss of all 84 crew.
  • July 23, 1984: Romeoville, Illinois, Union Oil refinery explosion killed 19 people.
  • November 19, 1984: San Juanico Disaster. An explosion at a liquid petroleum gas tank farm killed hundreds and injured thousands in San Juanico, Mexico.
  • April 26, 1986: Chernobyl disaster. At the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Prypiat, Ukraine a test on reactor number four went out of control, resulting in a nuclear meltdown. The ensuing steam explosion and fire killed up to 50 people with estimates that there may be between 4,000 and several hundred thousand additional cancer deaths over time. Fallout could be detected as far away as Canada. The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, covering portions of Belarus and Ukraine surrounding Prypiat, remains contaminated and mostly uninhabited. Prypiat itself was totally evacuated and remains as a ghost town.
  • May 5, 1988: Norco, Louisiana, Shell Oil refinery explosion. Hydrocarbon gas escaped from a corroded pipe in a catalytic cracker and was ignited. Louisiana state police evacuated 2,800 residents from nearby neighborhoods. Seven workers were killed and 42 injured. The total cost arising from the Norco blast is estimated at US$706 million.
  • July 6, 1988: Piper Alpha disaster. An explosion and resulting fire on a North Sea oil production platform killed 167 men. The total insured loss was about US$3.4 billion. To date it is rated as the world's worst offshore oil disaster in terms both of lives lost and impact to industry.
  • March 24, 1989: Exxon Valdez oil spill. The Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker bound for Long Beach, California, hit Prince William Sound's Bligh Reef, dumping an estimated minimum 10.8 million US gallons (40.9 million litres, or 250,000 barrels) of crude oil into the sea. It is considered to be one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters ever to occur. 100,000 to as many as 250,000 seabirds died, as well as at least 2,800 sea otters, approximately 12 river otters, 300 harbor seals, 247 bald eagles, and 22 orcas, and billions of salmon and herring eggs were destroyed.Overall reductions in population have been seen in various ocean animals, including stunted growth in pink salmon populations.Sea otters and ducks also showed higher death rates in following years, partially because they ingested prey from contaminated soil and also from ingestion of oil residues on their hair/feathers due to grooming.The effects of the spill continue to be felt 20 years later.
  • March 23, 2005: Texas City Refinery explosion. An explosion occurred at a BP refinery in Texas City, Texas. It is the third largest refinery in the United States and one of the largest in the world, processing 433,000 barrels of crude oil per day and accounting for three percent of that nation's gasoline supply. Over 100 were injured, and 15 were confirmed dead, including employees of Jacobs, Fluor and BP. BP has since accepted that its employees contributed to the accident. Several level indicators failed, leading to overfilling of a knockout drum, and light hydrocarbons concentrated at ground level throughout the area. A nearby running diesel truck set off the explosion.
  • December 11, 2005: Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal fire. A series of explosions at the Buncefield oil storage depot, described as the largest peacetime explosion in Europe, devastated the terminal and many surrounding properties. There were no fatalities. Total damages have been forecast as £750 million.
  • August 17, 2009: Sayano–Shushenskaya power station accident. Seventy-five people were killed at a hydroelectric power station when a turbine failed. The failed turbine had been vibrating for a considerable time. Emergency doors to stop the incoming water took a long time to close, while a self-closing lock would have stopped the water in minutes.
  • February 7, 2010: 2010 Connecticut power plant explosion. A large explosion occurred at a Kleen Energy Systems 620-megawatt, Siemens combined cycle gas- and oil- fired power plant in Middletown, Connecticut, United States. Preliminary reports attributed the cause of the explosion to a test of the plant's energy systems.The plant was still under construction and scheduled to start supplying energy in June 2010. The number of injuries was eventually established to be 27. Five people died in the explosion.
  • April 20, 2010: Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven oil platform workers died in an explosion and fire that resulted in a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, considered the largest offshore spill in US history.
  • March 2011: Fukushima I nuclear accidents in Japan. Regarded as the largest nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl disaster, there were no direct deaths but a few of the plant's workers were severely injured or killed by the disaster conditions resulting from the earthquake.
  • October 29, 2012: Hurricane Sandy caused a ConEdison power plant to explode, causing a blackout in most of midtown Manhattan. The blue light emitted from the arc made places as far as Brooklyn glow. No person was killed or injured.
  • July 6, 2013: Lac-Mégantic, Quebec Canada. Lac-Mégantic derailment. Forty-seven people were killed when there was a derailment of an oil shipment train. The oil shipment caught fire and exploded, destroying more than thirty buildings. It was the fourth-deadliest rail accident in Canadian history.

Defense industry accidents:

  • December 6, 1917: Halifax, Canada. The Halifax explosion. A ship loaded with about 9000 tons of high explosives destined for France caught fire as a result of a collision in Halifax harbour, and exploded. The explosion killed about 2000 and injured about 9000.
  • October 4, 1918: T. A. Gillespie Company Shell Loading Plant explosion. An ammunition plant in Sayreville, New Jersey exploded, killing approximately 100 people, destroying 300 buildings and causing $18 million in damages.
  • March 1, 1924: 1924 Nixon Nitration Works disaster. A plant for processing ammonium nitrate in Edison, New Jersey exploded, killing 24 people, injuring 100 and destroying several buildings.
  • July 17, 1944: Port Chicago Disaster. A munitions explosion that killed 320 people occurred at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine in Port Chicago, California.
  • August 9, 1965: Little Rock AFB in Searcy, Arkansas. 53 contract workers were killed during a fire at a Titan missile silo. The cause of the fire was determined to be a welding rod damaging a hydraulic hose allowing hydraulic vapors to leak and spread throughout the silo, which were then ignited by an open flame.
  • April 10, 1988: Ojhri Camp. A military storage center in Rawalpindi, Pakistan exploded, killing more than 1,300 people.
  • July 11, 2011: Evangelos Florakis Naval Base explosion, Cyprus. The disaster occurred when 98 containers of gunpowder exploded; 13 people were killed, among them the captain of the base, three commanders, twin brothers who were serving there as marines, and six firefighters, 62 people injured and knocked out the island's power station for days.

Food industry accidents:

  • May 2, 1878: The Washburn "A" Mill in Minneapolis was destroyed by a flour dust explosion, killing 18. The mill was rebuilt with updated technology. The explosion led to new safety standards in the milling industry.
  • January 15, 1919: The Boston Molasses Disaster. A large molasses tank burst and a wave of molasses rushed through the streets at an estimated 35 mph (56 km/h), killing 21 and injuring 150. The event has entered local folklore, and residents claim that on a hot summer day, the area still smells of molasses.
  • February 6, 1979: The (Roland Mill), located in Bremen, Germany, was destroyed by a flour dust explosion, killing 14 and injuring 17.
  • September 3, 1991: 1991 Hamlet chicken processing plant fire in Hamlet, North Carolina, where locked doors trapped workers in a burning processing plant, causing 25 deaths.
  • September 3, 1998: 1998 Haysville KN grain elevator explosion in Haysville, Kansas. A series of dust explosions in a large grain storage facility resulted in the deaths of seven people.
  • February 7, 2008: The 2008 Georgia sugar refinery explosion in Port Wentworth, Georgia, United States. Thirteen people were killed and 42 injured when a dust explosion occurred at a sugar refinery owned by Imperial Sugar.
  • March 12, 2008: Morin-Heights, Quebec, Canada. A roof collapse in the Gourmet du Village bakery warehouse killed three workers.

Manufacturing industry accidents:

  • January 10, 1860: Pemberton Mill was a large factory in Lawrence, Massachusetts that collapsed without warning. An estimated 145 workers were killed and 166 injured.
  • March 20, 1905: Grover Shoe Factory disaster. A boiler explosion, building collapse and fire killed 58 people and injured 150 in Brockton, Massachusetts.
  • March 25, 1911: Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City. This was a major industrial disaster in the US, causing the death of more than 100 garment workers who either died in the fire or jumped to their deaths. The fire led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, which fought for better working conditions for sweatshop workers in that industry.
  • May 27, 1983: Benton fireworks disaster. An explosion at an illegal fireworks operation on a farm near Benton, Tennessee killed eleven, injured one, and inflicted damage within a radius of several miles.
  • November 23, 1984 MESIT factory collapse. A part of a factory in Uherské Hradiště, Czechoslovakia collapsed, killing 18 workers and injuring 43. The accident was kept secret by the communist regime, however, the news broke the iron curtain and made it to the western media.
  • May 4, 1988: PEPCON disaster, Henderson, Nevada. A massive fire and explosions at a chemical plant killed two people and injured over 300.
  • May 10, 1993: Kader Toy Factory fire. A fire started in a poorly built factory in Thailand. Exit doors were locked and the stairwell collapsed. 188 workers were killed, mostly young women.
  • May 13, 2000: Enschede fireworks disaster. A fire and explosion at a fireworks depot in Enschede, Netherlands resulted in 22 deaths and another 947 were injured. About 1,500 homes were damaged or destroyed. The damage was estimated to be over US$300 million in insured losses.
  • November 3, 2004: Seest fireworks disaster. N. P. Johnsens Fyrværkerifabrik fireworks factory exploded in Seest, a suburb of Kolding, Denmark. One firefighter died; seven from the rescue team as well as 17 locals were injured. In total 2,107 buildings were damaged by the explosion, with the cost of the damage estimated at €100 million.
  • April 18, 2007: Qinghe Special Steel Corporation disaster. A ladle holding molten steel separated from the overhead iron rail, fell, tipped, and killed 32 workers, injuring another 6.
  • February 1, 2008: Istanbul fireworks explosion. An unlicensed fireworks factory exploded accidentally, leaving by some reports at least 22 people dead and at least 100 injured.
  • September 11, 2012: Karachi, Pakistan, 289 people died in a fire at the Ali Enterprises garment factory, which made ready-to-wear clothing for Western export.
  • November 24, 2012: Dhaka Tasreen Fashions fire. A seven-story factory fire outside of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, killed at least 112 people, 12 from jumping out of windows to escape the blaze.

April 24, 2013: 2013 Savar building collapse. An eight-story factory building collapsed on the outskirts of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, and killed 1129 people. The building contained five garment factories that were manufacturing clothing for the western market.

Mining industry accidents :

  • March 10, 1906: Courrières mine disaster in Courrières, France. 1,099 people died, including children, in the worst mine accident in Europe.
  • October 14, 1913: Senghenydd Colliery Disaster, the worst mining accident in the United Kingdom; 439 workers died.
  • April 26, 1942: Benxihu Colliery disaster in Benxi, Liaoning, China. 1,549 workers died, in the worst coal mine accident ever in the world.
  • May 28, 1965: Dhanbad coal mine disaster took place in Jharkhand, India, killing over 300 miners.
  • October 21, 1966: Aberfan disaster was a catastrophic collapse of a colliery spoil-tip that occurred in the Welsh village of Aberfan, killing 116 children and 28 adults.
  • July 19, 1985: Val di Stava dam collapse took place in the village of Stava, near Tesero, Italy, when two tailings dams, used for sedimenting the mud from the nearby Prestavel mine, failed. It resulted in one of Italy's worst disasters, killing 268 people, destroying 63 buildings and demolishing eight bridges.
  • May 9, 1993: Nambija mine disaster, Nambija, Ecuador. Approximately 300 people were killed in a landslide.
  • January 30, 2000: Baia Mare cyanide spill took place in Baia Mare, Romania. The accident, called the worst environmental disaster in Europe since Chernobyl, was a release of 100,000 tons of cyanide-contaminated water into the rivers Someş, Tisza and Danube by an Aurul mining company due to a reservoir breach. Although no human fatalities were reported, the leak killed up to 80 percent of aquatic life in some of the affected rivers.
  • April 5, 2010: Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, West Virginia, United States. An explosion occurred in Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine. Twenty-nine out of 31 miners at the site were killed.
  • November 19, 2010: Pike River Mine disaster in New Zealand. At 3:45 pm, the coal mine exploded. Twenty-nine men underground died immediately, or shortly afterwards, from the blast or from the toxic atmosphere. Two men in the stone drift, some distance from the mine workings, managed to escape. (Extract from Royal Commission of Enquiry Report on Pike River.)
  • May 13, 2014: Soma mine disaster in Manisa Province, Turkey. An explosion occurred two kilometers below the surface, starting a fire, which caused the mine's elevator to stop working. This trapped several hundred miners, many of whom died of carbon monoxide poisoning. 787 workers were present during the disaster, and 301 of them died during the disaster.
  • August 4, 2014: Mount Polley mine disaster near Likely, British Columbia.

Other industrial disasters:

  • January 20, 1909: Chicago Crib Disaster. During the construction of a water intake tunnel for the city of Chicago, a fire broke out on a temporary water crib used to access an intermediate point along the tunnel. The fire began in the dynamite magazine and burned the wooden dormitory that housed the tunnel workers. 46 workers survived the fire by jumping into the lake and climbing onto ice floes or the spoil heap near the crib. 29 men were burned beyond recognition, and approximately 60 men died. Most of the remainder drowned or froze to death in the lake and were not recovered.
  • September 21, 1921: Oppau explosion in Germany. Occurred when a tower silo storing 4,500 tonnes of a mixture of ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate fertilizer exploded at a BASF plant in Oppau, now part of Ludwigshafen, Germany, killing 500–600 people and injuring about 2,000 more.
  • 1927 - 1932: Hawks Nest Tunnel Disaster, near Gauley Bridge, West Virginia, United States. Over several years, 476 workers died from silicosis.
  • 1932-1968: The Minamata disaster was caused by the dumping of mercury compounds in Minamata Bay, Japan. The Chisso Corporation, a fertilizer and later petrochemical company, was found responsible for polluting the bay for 37 years. It is estimated that over 3,000 people suffered various deformities, severe mercury poisoning symptoms or death from what became known as Minamata disease.
  • April 16, 1947: Texas City disaster, Texas. At 9:15 am an explosion occurred aboard a docked ship named the Grandcamp. The explosion, and subsequent fires and explosions, is referred to as the worst industrial disaster in America. A minimum of 578 people lost their lives and another 3,500 were injured as the blast shattered windows from as far away as 25 mi (40 km). Large steel pieces were thrown more than a mile from the dock. The origin of the explosion was fire in the cargo on board the ship. Detonation of 3,200 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer aboard the Grandcamp led to further explosions and fires. The fertilizer shipment was to aid the struggling farmers of Europe recovering from World War II.
  • 1948: A chemical tank wagon explosion within the BASF's Ludwigshafen, Germany site caused 207 fatalities.
  • February 3, 1971: The Thiokol-Woodbine Explosion at a Thiokol chemical plant in Georgia killed 29 people and seriously injured 50.
  • June 1, 1974: Flixborough disaster, England. An explosion at a chemical plant near the village of Flixborough killed 28 people and seriously injured another 36.
  • July 10, 1976: Seveso disaster, in Seveso, Italy, in a small chemical manufacturing plant of ICMESA. Due to the release of dioxins into the atmosphere and throughout a large section of the Lombard Plain, 3,000 pets and farm animals died and, later, 70,000 animals were slaughtered to prevent dioxins from entering the food chain. In addition, 193 people in the affected areas suffered from chloracne and other symptoms. The disaster lead to the Seveso Directive, which was issued by the European Community and imposed much harsher industrial regulations.
  • April 27, 1978: Willow Island disaster. A cooling tower for a power plant under construction in Willow Island, West Virginia collapsed, killing 51 construction workers. The cause was attributed to placing loads on recently poured concrete before it had cured sufficiently to withstand the loads. It is thought to be the largest construction accident in United States history.
  • December 3, 1984: The Bhopal disaster in India is one of the largest industrial disasters on record. A runaway reaction in a tank containing poisonous methyl isocyanate caused the pressure relief system to vent large amounts to the atmosphere at a Union Carbide India Limited plant. Estimates of the death toll range from 4,000 to 20,000. The disaster caused the region's human and animal populations severe health problems to the present.
  • November 1, 1986: The Sandoz disaster in Schweizerhalle, Switzerland released tons of toxic agrochemicals into the Rhine.
  • June 28, 1988: Auburn, Indiana. Improper mixing of chemicals killed four workers at a local metal-plating plant in the worst confined-space industrial accident in U.S. history; a fifth victim died two days later.
  • October 23, 1989: Phillips Disaster. An explosion and fire killed 23 and injured 314 in Pasadena, Texas and registered 3.5 on the Richter scale.
  • July 5, 1990: Arco Disaster. An explosion and fire occurred at the Arco Chemical Company complex in Channelview, Texas. 17 people were killed. Five were permanent employees of Arco Chemical Company and the remaining 12 were contract labor employees. An area approximately the size of a city block was completely destroyed; no one in the area survived the explosion.
  • May 1, 1991: Sterlington, Louisiana. An explosion at the IMC-operated Angus Chemical nitro-paraffin plant in Sterlington, Louisiana killed eight workers and injured 120 other people. There was severe damage to the surrounding community. The blasts were heard more than eight miles away.
  • September 21, 2001: Toulouse, France. An explosion at the AZF fertilizer factory killed 29, injured 2,500, and caused extensive structural damage to nearby neighbourhoods.
  • October 19, 2009: Ottawa, Canada. A boiler explosion at the Cliff Central Heating and Cooling Plant killed one person, and three others suffered injuries.
  • October 4, 2010: Alumina plant accident. Ajka, Kolontár, Devecser and several other settlements, Hungary. The dam of Magyar Aluminium Zrt.'s red mud reservoir broke and the escaping highly toxic and alkaline (~pH 13) sludge flooded several settlements. There were nine victims, including a young girl and hundreds of injuries (mostly chemical burns).
  • January 20, 2012: Burns Lake, British Columbia, Canada. At a wood mill two workers were killed and 20 others injured in a fire and explosion. A combustible dust environment led to the explosion and fire.
  • November 8, 2012: Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada. Two people died and 19 were injured in an industrial processing plant belonging to Neptune Technologies & Bioressources, a manufacturer of health care products.
  • April 17, 2013: Fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. An explosion occurred at the West Fertilizer Company storage and distribution facility in West, Texas, 18 miles (29 km) north of Waco, while emergency services personnel were responding to a fire at the facility. At least 14 people were killed, more than 160 were injured and more than 150 buildings damaged or destroyed.
  • June 20, 2013: Coteau-du-Lac, Quebec, Canada. Two women were killed in a fireworks warehouse explosion.

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