South Africa. A paper dust explosion probably led to the deaths of 13 employees of Paarl Print.
This is the opinion of the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers’ Union (CEPPWAWU), on completion of their investigations into the cause of the fire which swept through the Dal Josaphat Paarl Print plant on 17 April.
According to their findings, the uncontrolled spread of the fire which resulted in 13 fatalities, “has been linked to a build-up of highly combustible dust in the roof of the plant”.
The fire allegedly started in the cafeteria and spread throughout the building at great speed, too fast to allow some workers to escape.
Alarms, fire prevention and control equipment failed to control the spread of the fire.
Survivors described a shock-wave that preceded a wall of flames that travelled along the roof of the 300m-long building in a matter of seconds.
The flame ignited electrical conduits and turned the building into an inferno in less than a minute. Dense smoke and restricted visibility led to some workers not being able to find their way out.
“Because the Health and Safety of workers is of primary concern to CEPPWAWU, we have taken it upon ourselves to appoint Health and Safety experts from the University of Cape Town, and prominent Health and Safety attorney Richard Spoor, to assist the union in its investigations,” says Simon Mofokeng, general secretary of CEPPWAWU.
On the basis of their investigations to date, the union team has made a preliminary finding that the initial small fire in the cafeteria was propagated through the building by an ensuing dust explosion.
This was fuelled by paper dust that had accumulated on the open rafters of the building and which had been raised into the air by the shock-wave.
“CEPPWAWU is satisfied that this is the only reasonable explanation that fits all the evidence to date,” according to their statement.
“The finding however, is a preliminary one and must be confirmed by further investigation.”
The cause of the initial fire which began in the cafeteria has still not been officially released. But according to a source, it was due to an electric chip-frier filled with oil which had been left on overnight.
When one of the cafeteria staff opened the frier in the morning, the oxygen set the oil alight.
Dust explosions in industry are relatively rare. They are most often encountered in the coal mining industry and in the grain-handling and processing industries. Coal dust, grain dust and paper dust are inflammable and, when raised into the air, can explode.
An Occupational Health and Safety expert said that when examining this evidence, it is possible that “a dust explosion was responsible” for the devastation.
“Industries that are susceptible to such explosions, should have special precautionary measures in place, which in the event of a dust explosion transforms the matter into gas.
“It is a very complex procedure to establish up front how flammable the material is, as well as the flashpoint.
“If safety inspectors where clever enough, they would have established this beforehand and put measures in place to avert a disaster, in the event of a fire.”
Source: Paarl Post