At a brewery, the base plate-to-shell weld seam of a 90-m3 vertical cylindrical steel tank failed catastrophically. The 4 ton tank “took off” like a rocket leaving its contents behind, and landed on a van, crushing it. The top of the tank reached a height of 30 m. The internal overpressure responsible for the failure was an estimated 60 kPa. A rupture disc rated at <50 kPa provided overpressure protection and thus prevented the tank from being covered by the European Pressure Equipment Directive. This safeguard failed and it was later discovered that the rupture disc had been installed upside down. The organizational root cause of this incident may be a fundamental lack of appreciation of the hazards of large volumes of low-pressure compressed air or gas. A contributing factor may be that the standard piping and instrumentation diagram (P&ID) symbol for a rupture disc may confuse and lead to incorrect installation. Compressed air systems are ubiquitous. The medium is not toxic or flammable. Such systems however, when operated at “slight overpressure” can store a great deal of energy and thus constitute a hazard that ought to be addressed by safety managers.
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- Catastrophic tank failure
- Isentropic exergy
- Pressure relief device failure