The Fire at Albright and Wilson, Avonmouth. 3rd October 1996
At around 10:30 am on 3rd October 1996, a tanker containing what was believed to be epichlorohydrin began off-loading at the Albright & Wilson site in Avonmouth, Bristol. Soon after, a series of explosions destroyed both the storage tank and the road tanker and started a fire, which persisted for an hour. It was later discovered that the road tanker in fact contained sodium chlorite, which reacts explosively with epichlorohydrin. The fire generated a 100m black plume of smoke containing hydrogen chloride, which drifted across the Severn estuary closing local motorways and rail services.
Three weeks before the delivery was due, the company received a quality certificate confirming the number of the tank container in which the epichlorohydrin would be delivered. However due to a mix-up by the haulier, a different numbered tank containing sodium chlorite was sent by mistake. No crosschecks were made against the original documentation, which would have highlighted that the wrong chemical had been delivered. By the time the haulier notified the company of the mistake, off-loading of the road tanker ha commenced.
Failings in technical measures
- No preventative measures were in place to safeguard against the addition of a material, reactive with the substance in the storage tank (in this case epichlorohydrin).
- Raw Materials Control / Sampling: identification of potentially hazardous impurities
- The documentation carried with the driver was not checked against the original quality documentation (e.g. for tank number) and the hazard markings on the tanker were not checked.
- Raw Materials Control / Sampling: operating procedures, particularly for receipt of deliveries
‘Albright and Wilson fined £60,000 after explosion at chemical plant’, Safety Management, July/August 1999, p8, British Safety Council.