Fatal Germany fertilizer accident still ‘mysterious’ - company

21 September 2012 15:00  [Source: ICIS news]

LONDON (ICIS)--The three workers killed this week in an accident at SKW Piesteritz’s nitrogen fertilizer site in Wittenberg, Germany, died of suffocation, a preliminary investigation found, but the precise cause of the accident remained mysterious on Friday, officials said.

The workers, who were from an outside firm, were doing corrosion protection and sand-blasting work on the chimney of an ammonia unit when the accident occurred on Wednesday (19 September) evening, according to a report SKW posted on its website.

However, the ammonia unit had been shut down on 3 September as SKW’s Wittenberg site is currently on scheduled maintenance turnaround. This makes it unlikely that an ammonia leak could have caused the deaths, the report said.

Adding to the mystery is that the bodies of the workers were found at different levels of scaffolding on the 42-metre chimney.

Peter Pfeiffer, general manager of the maintenance firm, Korro Trend, ruled out ammonia as a cause.

Pfeiffer said that the workers were experienced, took all precautions, and were familiar with SKW’s site. Korro Trend has been working for SKW for 12 years, he added.

Investigators are now looking to see whether carbon monoxide (CO) exhaust from a diesel-powered device may have been the cause, the report said.

According to a separate report by Germany’s state television, there is also speculation whether a fault in the protective gear the workers had to wear for sand-blasting may have been a factor.

Police forensic experts are expected to undertake additional investigations next week.

SKW is described as Germany’s largest producer of urea and ammonia. The company has an annual production of about 4m tonnes and employs 800 workers. It is owned by Czech firm Agrofert.

By: Stefan Baumgarten
+1 713 525 2653

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