Inherent hazards, poor reporting and limited learning in the solid biomass energy sector: A case study of a wheel loader igniting wood dust, leading to fatal explosion at wood pellet manufacturer

Frank Huess Hedlund, John Astad, Jeffrey Nichols

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Abstract

Large loaders are commonly used when handling solid biomass fuels. A preventable accident took place in 2010, where the malfunction of a front-end wheel loader led to a dust explosion which killed the driver and destroyed the building. The case offers an opportunity to examine the hazards of solid biomass, the accident investigation and any learning that subsequently took place.

The paper argues that learning opportunities were missed repeatedly. Significant root causes were not identified; principles of inherent safety in design were ignored; the hazardous area classification was based on flawed reasoning; the ATEX assessment was inadequate as it dealt only with electrical installations, ignoring work operations; and powered industrial trucks had not been recognized as a source of ignition. Perhaps most importantly, guidelines for hazardous area classification for combustible dust are insufficiently developed and give ample room for potentially erroneous subjective individual judgment. It is a contributing factor that combustible dust, although with great hazard potential, is not classified as a dangerous substance. Accidents therefore fall outside the scope of systems designed to disseminate lessons learned and prevent future accidents.

More attention to safety is needed for the renewable energy and environmentally friendly biomass pellet industry also to become sustainable from a worker safety perspective.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBiomass & Bioenergy
Volume66
Pages (from-to)450–459
ISSN0961-9534
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Keywords

  • Biomass
  • Wood pellets
  • Powered industrial truck
  • Dust explosion
  • ATEX hazardous area classification
  • Learning from past accidents

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