Anhydrous hydrofluoric acid (AHF) release in South Korea, 5 dead, 18 injured

Five workers were killed and 18 others injured in an AHF release which took place 27th September, 2012, at Hube Global, based 200 kilometers southeast of Seoul, South Korea.  CCTV footage of the event has been made available.

3000 people downwind of the incident also received emergency care for nausea and other symptoms, and the incident has reportedly affected crops and livestock, and caused an estimated $15.9 million lost production to nearby businesses.  The area affected has been classed a special disaster zone, eligible to receive central government funding for clean-up operations.

During the incident, two workers on top of a tank lorry for transfer, two workers at ground level for pump repair and one officer in a nearby office building died when AHF released from a valve from the top of the lorry.  Whilst the cause of the release is being subject to an enquiry, early reports suggest a human factors cause – the workers may have mistakenly fully opened the transfer valve.  Some issues apparent from the CCTV footage and worth considering include:

  • Both workers working on top of the lorry had no chemical protective clothing or self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).
  • There didn’t seem to be any fall-protection in place.

There may have also been issues concerning lack of emergency response equipment/systems to mitigate the leak, and emergency responders not being aware of the treatment for AHF.

An important question to ask is was a safety critical task analysis or a quantitative human reliability analysis conducted for this task?  These types of analyses may have identified these risks and helped put in place safeguards (for example, changing the valve design, the use of adequate PPE).

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