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Regional explosions highlight the urgency for standards in Belize’s industrial and medical gas industry

Posted: Wednesday, October 12, 2022. 4:00 pm CST.

By Jose Sanchez: Belize, at 41 years, is still a very young country compared to those which have hundreds of years of experience in nationhood but what separates developed nations from developing countries are usually thriving economies and standards. Decommissioned 1980’s yellow school buses, regularly breaking down across the main highways, are symptomatic of the need for enforcement of standards and regulations of a developing nation.

There is one particular industry that has been brought to the forefront as a result of numerous regional accidents resulting in death, injury, and damage to property: the industrial and medical gas supply and distribution. Industrial and medical gases are used by hospitals, welders, divers, and companies whose needs are very specific.

Recently, there have been several cases of accidents involving the safe handling, storage, and use of industrial gas cylinders in Costa Rica. The first accident on July 16, occurred in an ice cream parlor located in a shopping center in La Ceiba de San Isidro, Alejuas, where a woman lost her limbs. The cylinder involved was the property of PRAXAIR-LINDE while in the possession of Proconta Trigas. The second accident on August 02, involved personnel performing welding- works for a sign-making company in San Joaquin Las Flores, Heredia, which left two persons seriously injured. The cylinder was the property of Gas Industrial Express, a GASPRO company. A third accident occurred on August 24 and two more innocent civilians were injured and more than 45 persons were consequently evacuated. In that incident, the cylinder involved was property of PRAXAIR-LINDE. Also, on September 23, 2022, in La Atlantida, Catia La Mar Venezuela, at least four people were reported injured when an oxygen cylinder, the property of LINDE, located inside the store of an oxygen provider, exploded. In all the cases it was evident, based on the reports, that there was negligence in performing proper cylinder inspection and requalification. The industrial gas cylinders were filled while showing clear evidence of defects such as dents, cuts, and invalid test dates. The storing of the cylinders in unsafe conditions near oils and high heat were also contributing factors.

There have been documented accidents and cases of gas cylinders exploding in Belize, resulting in death and damage to property. On September 14, 2009, at Brown’s Butane, a butane cylinder exploded after it was refilled causing the death of a man. It was reported that the cylinder was leaking after it was filled, the evidence suggested that the butane cylinder bottom was welded.

Another accident resulting in death involved the explosion of a scuba cylinder (dive tank) occurred on October 09, 2012 in San Pedro at Amigo’s Del Mar Dive Shop. There was no conclusive evidence as to the cause of the cylinder rupture, however the cylinder was being filled at the time of the accident.

When handling hazardous materials (HAZMAT), such as industrial gases, there is always a chance of incidents occurring as risks are always present and can never be fully mitigated. Consequently, companies responsible for filling, handling and distributing industrial gases are required to comply with industry standards and regulations, safe practices and the CERTIFIED maintenance and requalification of cylinders.

So what standards and regulations are there in Belize to ensure that local companies are complying with standards in order to safeguard their operation, personnel, and the general public? What exactly are these “industry standards”? Are these standards being implemented and enforced?

The Belize Bureau of Standards (BBS) is the regulating and technical body for standards in Belize. Since the first LPG accident in 2009 there has been some progression in the development and publication of standards for the filling, handling, storage, transportation, inspection, testing and requalification of portable containers for LPG. These standards are currently in the process of being revised.
Contrastingly, however, progress has been little to none as it relates to developing standards for the industrial and medical gas industry. There is currently only one established standard in this area, that is the BZS 1: Part 7:2012 for the Marking and Labelling of Gas Cylinders. Fabrigas Belize Ltd. is the leading supplier of industrial and medical gases in Belize. Fabrigas is working closely with the Bureau to formulate new standards for the specification, filling, handling, storage, transportation, inspection, testing and requalification of industrial and medical gases and cylinders. The process from development to legislation of these standards is lenghty and very technical. It requires engagement from all stakeholders, in the evaluation, advertising, voting, drafting, and consensus prior to publication.
On the international landscape, the most prominent and recognized entity as it relates to the regulations on the safe transportation and designation of hazardous materials is the Department

of Transport USA (DOT). DOT issues a valid Requalifier Identification Number (RIN) to facilities conducting such maintenance and requalification, given that they have met the requirements of inspection and certification for their establishments. It is also required by DOT to have certified, trained personnel who handle these gases and requalify the cylinders. Personnel are required to be re-trained and re-certified every three years in handling HAZMAT while facilities are subject to audit every five years.

While the need for development of standards is evident, as it gives the necessary framework and guidance to businesses and operators of these industries, does it ensure compliance? Looking back from 2009 to present, it is clear to see compliance is still sadly lacking in the LPG industry. Butane cylinders are still being filled without proper inspection, maintenance and requalification processes in place, even though standards have been established. A closer look at the industrial and medical gas industry reveals, surprisingly, a completely different level of operation. Upon visiting Fabrigas’ facility, it was evident that it is not only complying with local regulations, but also complying with industry and international standards. Fabrigas is certified by DOT and is currently the only company in Belize presently holding a cylinder RIN # for maintenance and requalification of industrial and medical gas cylinders, including the cylinders used for the LPG industry. The company is also ISO 9001 certified for its Quality Management System; a member of the Compress Gas Association of the USA (CGA); the American Welding Society (AWS) and it is also certified by the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA). It is externally audited every year by ISO representatives and every five years by DOT representatives to ensure compliance to standards.
While standards are crucial in developing the necessary framework for guidance, regulations, conformity and enforcement (in the form of audits and inspections), are also critical in guaranteeing compliance by these facilities. It is of the utmost urgency that the Government of Belize takes action to develop and enforce standards in Belize to improve SAFETY FOR ALL!

 

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