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A federal investigation into a 2020 explosion at a northwest Houston machine shop that killed three people and damaged hundreds of nearby homes and structures found that a lack of safety protocols and overall knowledge of safety processes were largely to blame for the blast.
The Watson Grinding and Manufacturing Co. facility, in the 4500 block of Gessner, exploded shortly before 4:30 a.m. on Jan. 24, 2020, killing two employees, Gerardo Castorena Sr., 45, and Frank Flores, 44, as well as one nearby resident, Gilberto Mendoza Cruz, 47.
The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board released the findings of its investigation into the incident on Thursday, highlighting the physical and policy errors that led to the catastrophic event that left many Houstonians rebuilding their homes and lives amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The physical cause of the explosion was the accidental release of propylene — a flammable gas — which accumulated inside the building overnight after leaking from a degraded pipe fitting and ignited when an employee arrived and turned on the lights. The CSB also pointed to a lack of a “comprehensive process safety management program” and emergency preparedness as contributing factors to the fatal blast.
“Contributing to the severity of the incident was the lack of an effective emergency response plan that should have instructed workers to evacuate from the area, prevented others from entering the area, and notified emergency responders when the flammable propylene gas leak was suspected or detected,” the report states.
The company failed to train its employees to recognize and respond to a gas release the morning of the explosion, the CSB found, resulting in employees’ failure to suspect the leak, evacuate the area or contact emergency responders.
The company filed for bankruptcy a month after the blast and since has gone out of business.
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