Human error is the #1 cause of combustion related incidents!

Unsafe practices and neglected equipment can lead to costly and tragic events. HCS’s mission is to ensure the safety of personnel within their work environment and while working with fuel fired equipment. By preventing combustion related fires and tragedies from occurring, HCS saves lives, and we find that to be the most important aspect of the work we do.

Catastrophe has no boundaries. Regardless of the industry you serve, the potential for disaster exists... and the most tragic part about it is that ALL combustion related events can be prevented!

Historical Events by Industry:

Feb. 2, 1999: Explosion and Fire Rip Through Automotive Manufacturer’s Complex; 6 Killed, Many Injured.

ford rouge







Lesson Learned: The explosion occurred as maintenance workers and welders shut the boiler down so that it could be serviced. Employees in the final stages of inserting the blank, opened the gas valves to the natural gas burners. However, the manual natural gas valve on one of the main gas lines had not been closed, and gas flowed into the boiler, mixing with air from an operating forced-draft fan for 90 to 120 seconds before the flammable mixture was ignited. The resulting explosion vented flames and hot gases that raised dense coal dust clouds, which ignited & caused secondary explosions.

Several factors contributed to the incident: Lack of operating igniter and flame-sensing interlocks that would have prevented natural gas flow into the furnace without any flame or igniter, lack of specific written procedures for shutting down and blanking the natural gas lines, and poor communication.

Food & Beverage

Feb. 7, 2008: Dust Explosion at Imperial Sugar in Portwentworth, GA Kills 13 and Injures 42.








Lesson Learned: The CSB found that the incident was a combination of a primary and multiple secondary dust explosions. They further concluded that the secondary dust explosions would have been highly unlikely had the company performed routine maintenance on conveying and packaging equipment to minimize dust releases and spillage or perform housekeeping duties to prevent the product on the floor from accumulating to hazardous levels. Imperial Sugar emergency plans were also insufficient, neglecting to practice emergency evacuation drills and provide prompt notification to the workers to evacuate.


June 9, 2009: 4 Killed, Dozens Injured During Explosion Caused by Natural Gas Blow Downs at Food Manufacturer's Facility in North Carolina.








Lesson Learned: A water heater manufacturer worker attempted to purge a new gas line by using natural gas; venting the gas indoor into the utility room where the new water heater was being installed. The room was ventilated by an exhaust fan. The release was conducted intermittently over two-and-a-half hours upon assumption that the purge was not effective because the water heater was difficult to ignite. Combustible gas detectors were not utilized to assess the air conditions as the workers were relying on smell to determine when the purge was complete. The gas accumulated to a dangerous level and was ignited by one of many potential ignition sources.

Several factors contributed to the incident: Purging fuel gas inside the building, utilizing fuel gas rather than an inert gas for purging activities, combustible gas detectors were not used when human senses are not reliable for natural gas detection, the area was not well ventilated, ignition sources were not eliminated and non-essential personnel were inside of the building during the purging activities.


Apr. 17, 2013: West Fertilizer Plant Explodes in West, TX, Killing 14 people and Injuring 160 Others.

West Texas Fertilizer Plant







Lesson Learned: The explosion resulted from a fire in a wooden warehouse building that led to the detonation of nearly 30 tons of ammonium nitrate stored inside wooden bins. The lack of a sprinkler system or other systems to automatically detect and suppress fire contributed to the fire's destruction. Additional causes were found to be improper storage of ammonium nitrate, lack of inspections and lack of training.

Petroleum & Petrochemical

Nov. 19, 1984: One-third of Mexico City’s Natural Gas Supply Explodes at PEMEX Plant in San Juanico, MX; Hundreds of Fatalities.








Lesson Learned: The disaster was initiated by a gas leak which was caused by a pipe rupture during transfer procedures. The leaking LPG accumulated at ground level for 10 minutes, and then drifted on the wind towards the facility's waste-gas flare pit. The gas ignited, resulting in a vapor cloud explosion that damaged the tank farm and resulted in a massive fire fed by newly damaged tanks leaking additional LPG and causing additional smaller explosions. The escalation was caused by an ineffective gas detection system.


Mar. 23, 2005: Fire and Explosion Kills 15 Workers and Injures 170 More at BP Texas City Refinery.








Lesson Learned: After a maintenance outage, the raffinate splitter tower was restarted. Operations personnel pumped flammable liquid hydrocarbons into the tower for over three hours without any liquid being removed, which was contrary to startup procedure instructions. Critical alarms and control instrumentation provided false indications that failed to alert the operators of the high level in the tower. Consequently, the tower overfilled and liquid overflowed into the overhead pipe at the top of the tower. The pipe ran down the side of the tower to pressure relief valves, and as liquid filled the pipe the pressure rose rapidly and three pressure relief valves opened for six minutes; discharging the large quantities of flammable liquid to a blow down drum with a vent stack open to atmosphere.When the blow down drum overfilled, a geyser-like release occurred and as the volatile liquid fell to the ground, it evaporated, forming a flammable vapor cloud which was ignited by backfire from an idling diesel pickup truck.

Contributing factors include: Poor focus on safety culture and performance, out-of-date policies and procedures, poor operation design that did not include a flare to safely combust flammables entering the blow down system, lack of automated controls, inadequate warning instrumentation, and lack of personnel training.


Jan. 19, 1982: Boiler Explosion at Star Spencer Elementary Kills 6, Injures 35 as it Rips Through Cafeteria.

star spencer






Lesson Learned: The Oklahoma Chief Boiler Inspector found that the water heater sat in disrepair for three or four years. The controls had been tampered with; the safety valve was in the wrong place; and the temperature probe had been removed. When the technician replaced the faulty gas valve, a used valve was installed, which was also faulty. When that valve failed, it failed open allowing the burner to stay on continuously which super-heated the water and over-pressurized the tank. The relief valve didn't work and the tank ruptured.

The accident could have been prevented if the proper procedures and maintenance schedule had been put in place, and if the technician had better knowledge of the equipment, its safety controls, and their functions.


Feb. 7, 2010: Natural Gas Blow Causes Major Explosion at Kleen Energy in Middletown, CT; Extensive Damage and 5 Fatalities.

kleen energy







Lesson Learned: Workers used natural gas to clean debris from natural gas pipes at a high pressure of approximately 650 pounds per square inch. The natural gas was being blown from an open ended pipe into a congested outdoor area surrounding the power generation equipment. With a variety of ignition sources inside and outside of the building, the gas found an ignition source and exploded.

Contributing factors include using a fuel gas rather than an inert gas for purging activities, as well as improper notification and/or work area restrictions for employees.


May 4, 2009: 20 Residences Damaged, 2 Workers Injured as Flammable Vapors Ignite at Veolia Environmental Services.








Lesson Learned: During a routine shutdown, flammable vapor was released from a waste recycling process, ignited, and violently exploded; seriously injuring two workers and damaging 20 nearby residences and five businesses. Investigators found that the north wall of the lab and operations building where people were injured was less than 30 feet from the waste recycling processing area where the flammable vapor was released.


Disaster can strike anywhere at any time. Just a single ignored or unnoticed hazard can be the ignition source for a combustion related incident that results in tragedy. Don't become another statistic! Learn from others' past mistakes, take a proactive approach to safety and let HCS be your guide.