In 2013, on July 29th, thousands of 20-pound propane tanks exploded off County Road 448 in Tavares, FL. Eight people were seriously injured including being critically burned in the conflagration that shut down the Blue Rhino processing plant. Investigators are now stating that, as was expected, the explosion was caused by human error. (Orlando Sentinel)
In his initial interview after the accident, Tavares Fire Chief Richard Keith stated, “We honestly think it was probably an equipment failure with a combination of human error from one of the staff.” (WESH Orlando) His initial suspicions have now been confirmed.
Workers at the Blue Rhino plant repair, refurbish, and refill propane cylinders that are commonly used by consumers. According to this month’s report, “leaking cylinders or containers that must be drained before they can be reconditioned are supposed to be moved from the storage yard to an ‘evacuation station’ where the propane can be released into a sealed system” (Orlando Sentinel). Inspectors with the department’s Bureau of Liquefied Gas Inspections conducted an investigation that discovered the night of the blast, workers had manually emptied propane cylinders in the storage yard by opening screws on the tanks. Propane vapors were ignited when a forklift operator started up his machine, the report said.
As assumed from the beginning, there will be legal implications as a result of this incident (Wooten Kimbrough, P.A.). Blue Rhino is currently contesting 26 workplace-safety violations and more than $70,000 in fines imposed by OSHA, as a result of this explosion (Orlando Sentinel). The propane plant closed after the incident took place, and reopened this past December.