BSEE Safety Alert: Improper Compressor Purging Leads to Explosions

Credit: BSEE.
Compressor scavenger box after explosion.

Job safety analysis and improper compressor purging procedures were brought to the forefront on 8 December with the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s (BSEE) issuance of Safety Alert No. 327.

The alert described two incidents that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in June and July and the findings of BSEE’s investigations.

In the first incident, in June, a gas compressor ran for approximately 20 minutes before shutting down because of a platform air compressor problem during normal startup operations. After the air compressor was back on line, two attempts failed to restart the gas compressor. The mechanic then made adjustments to the magnetic pickup and the flywheel. Two attempts later, the gas compressor appeared to be starting, but, after 2–3 seconds, the engine backfired.

The subsequent explosion sent the scavenger box and debris airborne and ignited the paper filters in the filter housing. The fire was immediately extinguished; however, the mechanic standing next to the air box was injured by flying debris that contacted his chin and upper body.

The initial investigation indicates that failure to properly purge the gas compressor is the probable cause of the backfire because the compressor panel logic allows the purging process to occur with the starters engaged. After engagement, the panel logic allowed ignition causing the backfire and subsequent explosion.

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