Flixborough remembered (Day 5)

1st June 2014

Forty years ago, today, the explosion at the Flixborough Nypro Chemicals site near Scunthorpe, UK, killed 28 people and injured 36 others.

It resulted in the almost complete destruction of the plant. Further afield, the blast injured another 53 people and caused extensive damage to around 2,000 buildings.

With the exception of the Buncefield fire in 2005, it remains the biggest post war explosion in the UK.

At the time there were no specific UK regulations to control major industrial hazards. The incident also exposed weaknesses in the understanding of hazards, the design of buildings, management systems and organisation.

Despite the tragic loss of life, Flixborough marked a change in plant safety. Today, chemical engineering undergraduates are routinely taught the lessons from Flixborough and the incident is continuing to influence safety in industries such as oil, gas, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and many other process industries.

Robin Turney, a Fellow of the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), who has studied the accident and its aftermath in detail, said: “Flixborough has left a lasting legacy on the chemical and process industries – in the UK, Europe and worldwide.

“The past 40 years have seen many improvements in process safety through regulations, technical measures and better management. The avoidance of further disasters will require constant attention to these together with the active involvement of directors and senior managers to create an organisational ‘safety culture’ which promotes open dialogue and seeks to identify and correct weaknesses."

The memories of Flixborough remain harrowing to many. However, there are some legacies which may offer some comfort to friends and families of those who lost their lives. The lessons from the disaster have helped to prevent the loss of life over the past four decades and are continuing to do so today.