Safety in the Heat Treatment Industry-An Example of What Can Go Wrong

Our previous news item spoke of a very interesting booklet from Germany outlining safety in the German heat treat industry and the regulations that surround it. Unfortunately sometimes an accident is just that, an accident and almost impossible to prevent-this example from a SKF bearing facility in the USA in 2011 is a perfect example of this. We at “The Monty Heat Treat News” were very familiar with this facility (which is still in operation by the way) and the attached photos show the furnace where the accident occurred, these were taken just months before the accident. At the time this was a brand new multi million dollar furnace installation and based upon a proven design from a very respected furnace builder-the exact same furnaces had been in operation in Sweden for a number of years with no issues. It is hard to know how anybody could have reasonably foreseen this issue but it does show once again that safety can never be taken for granted.

“At approximately 8:30 a.m. on September 1, 2011, Employee #1 was working to repair a gantry crane. In close proximity to where Employee #1 was working, a heat treatment process was being performed that involved a robotic gantry crane, equipped with rectangular hollow metal arms, dipping metal parts into a molten salt solution. This heat treatment process (system) was built and designed by an overseas contractor in 2009. Over time, the upper left arm of the gantry crane used in this process filled up with water. When the upper left arm of the gantry crane was submerged in the liquid molten salt solution on this day, it expanded and pulled apart about seven inches.

This caused a rapid steam/expansion to occur, projecting liquid molten salt over an approximate 30 feet. Employee #1 was struck by the molten salt solution, causing severe chemical burns. As a result of the severity of Employee #1’s injury, he died several days later. The accident investigation revealed that the contributing factor of the incident was a result of the gantry-crane arm being hollow. If the arm would have been constructed of solid metal, water would not have leaked inside the arm. In addition, despite the final incident report not accounting for any additional employees being involved in the incident, the write-up reported that two other employees, both technicians, were also severely burned. These employees were employed by an overseas company assigned to perform warranty work on the heat treatment system.”

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