Heat Treat Operator Burned-The Importance of a Flame Curtain

As part of our campaign to raise awareness of the importance of safety in the heat treat industry “The Monty” includes regular reports about accidents in the industry and how they could have been prevented. In this case a large auto parts maker in North America had a tragic accident as a result of a flame curtain not being lit (please note that in the report below the accident investigators refer to it as a “fire curtain”, we have always heard it called “flame curtain”). This accident was compounded by the fact the operator was not wearing the correct apparel.

“XXX Company has been hit with a $200,000 fine following a 2018 explosion that left one worker with burns. According to a news release Wednesday, Dec. 16, from the Department of Labor, XXX Company  pleaded guilty to the offence, which took place in October 2018 at the XXX Company plant. Along with the $200,000 fine, the court also imposed a 25 per cent victim fine surcharge. On Oct. 2, 2018, a worker was opening the furnace door to remove parts when a fireball erupted from the open doorway. The news release notes that when the furnace door is opened, the entrance should be fully blocked and covered by a fire curtain, which prevents outside oxygen from getting into the furnace. That curtain is lit by a pilot light, igniting it prior to the door being opened.

“However, if the door is opened and the fire curtain is not lit, oxygen from outside is mixed with the controlled environment inside the furnace, which includes endothermic gas. The new gas mixture can be explosive,” the release notes. “On this day, the fire curtain was not lit when the door was opened. This resulted in a fireball explosion. It is likely that a downdraft of air through the exhaust ventilation of the furnace hood blew out the pilot light.” According to the release, the worker’s skin was not protected from the radiant heat resulting from the explosion, as the employee was not “wearing apparel sufficient to protect the worker from injury,” or using a shield, screen or other barrier. As XXX Company failed to ensure the worker was wearing adequate skin protection, they were found to be in violation of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.”

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