Incident directory

1989 - The Peterborough Explosion

15/06/1984

Country:

UK

  • Explosions

Severity:

Fatal

Description

Date of event

22nd March 1989             

Time of event

09:36 (INITIAL CALL)

Name of premises

Vibroplant Ltd (yard being used to turn around in).

Location

Fengate industrial estate, Peterborough.

Service area

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service (CFRS).

Nature of incident

Fire and explosion.

Property type

Transport & industrial

Premises use

Lorry used for delivery.

Construction type and materials

Steel chassis constructed 11.5 tonne box van, with aluminium box.

Occupancy

Driver and employees and customers at various premises at the industrial estate.

Fire source and location of fire

Accidental ignition involving Cerium fuseheads used as electrical igniters for pyrotechnic devices e.g. display fireworks.

Synopsis

Brief Synopsis

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service were called to a fire within a van containing explosives at 09:36 on the 22nd March 1999. An initial call had stated that the fire involved a tanker but this was quickly backed up further information from the driver, via a receptionist, making an additional 999 call, that the fire involved a van that in fact carried explosives. A small explosion had initially occurred when the van carrying a variety of high explosives (approximately 780 kg), detonators (750 in number) and 4 boxes of fuseheads drove over a concrete speed ramp or ‘sleeping policeman’. A fire then followed within the storage compartment of the van (HSE, 1989).

The fire service initially attended with 2 pumping appliances and a rescue tender. The rescue tender reached the yard at approximately 09:41 whereby the officer in charge (OIC) confirmed the presence of explosives and sent that information to control. The 2 pumping appliances arrived at 09:43 and 09:44 and had received confirmation of the presence of explosives via radio from control. Attending crews began as a first priority to evacuate the area. A hose was laid out along the base of a brick wall by 2 firefighters who then stood approximately 15 m from the van, just beyond the edge of the wall and as they were waiting for water, an explosion occurred at approximately 09:45. The blast injured 107 people, 84 who required hospital treatment. A firefighter was killed when he was struck in the forehead by a piece of shrapnel. Nearly all of the firefighters present were knocked over by the blast and were injured to varying degrees (HSE, 1989).

Several firefighters were treated for post incident traumatic stress after the incident. 2 Ff’s subsequently left the service because of this (CFRS, unknown date). Post incident traumatic stress is also known as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Photo 1

Courtesy of Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service.

Photo 2

Similar vehicle was involved in the explosion. Courtesy of Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service.

Photo 3

HSE (1989). The Peterborough Explosion.

Photo 4

HSE (1989). The Peterborough Explosion. Rescue tender and pumping appliance damage.

Photo 5

Remains of the collapsed wall and rescue tender damage. Courtesy of Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service.

Photo 6

Remains of the collapsed wall and damaged vehicles. Courtesy of Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service.

Photo 7

Remains of the collapsed wall and damaged vehicles. Courtesy of Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service.

Photo 8

Damaged fire service pumping appliance. Courtesy of Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service.

Photo 9

Damaged fire service pumping appliance. Courtesy of Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service.

Photo 10

Remains of the explosive carrying vehicle. Courtesy of Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service.

Main findings, key lessons & areas for learning

Further information hoping to be identified and still to be located.

Fire & Rescue Service summary of main findings, conclusions, key lessons & recommendations

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.

FBU summary of main findings, conclusions, key lessons & recommendations

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.

Other report summary of main findings, conclusions, key lessons & recommendations

Further information hoping to be identified and still to be located.

Health & Safety Executive report conclusions and recommendations

Taken from The Health and Safety Executive. (1989).  The Peterborough explosion, a report of the investigation by The Health and Safety Executive into the explosion of a vehicle carrying explosives at Fengate Industrial Estate, Peterborough on 22nd March 1989. 

--subaccordion--

Conclusions

84  The sequence of events began when a minor explosion inside the vehicle started a fire.  After an estimated 12 minutes the main bulk of the cargo, blasting explosives, detonated.

85  The initial minor explosion was probably caused by ignition of Cerium fusehead combs when the vehicle jolted over a speed control ramp. The likely mechanism was impact or friction of fusehead debris or loose composition against the metal box packaging. The fusehead explosive composition was probably sensitised by the presence of rust.

86  The ignition occurred because Cerium fusehead combs were carried in unauthorised and unsafe packages. Excessive quantities in each package produced the scale of effect.

87  There was no proper system to check that all explosives had the appropriate packing authorities and that containers were maintained in a safe condition.

88  The mechanism for the detonation of the whole cargo cannot be firmly established. It was most likely to have been caused by detonators scattered about during the fire, although it may have been induced through fire engulfment alone.

89  The fire services arrived at the scene of the vehicle fire promptly. Prior to the explosion they were aware of the presence in the vehicle of commercial explosives, even though the vehicle was not placarded outside. The information was communicated to them by the crew of the vehicle and also by their vehicle radio. The act ion taken by the crew members was both courageous and consistent with the training and guidance they had received.

Recommendations

90  Operators and consignors should develop systems to ensure that all activities relating to the carriage of explosives are safe. Such systems must of necessity cover a wide number of elements and it is appropriate to indicate here the main features.

(a)  Care must be taken to ensure that all explosives have been properly classified and labelled in accordance with the Classification and Labelling of Explosives Regulation s 1983. The classification of explosives is dependent on the packaging used and the management systems must ensure that all explosives are packed in the manner so classified.

(b)  The Packing of Explosives for Conveyance Rules 1949 state the legal requirements for packaging and it is the responsibility of companies to ensure that packages are designed and material s of construction selected to ensure compliance with these requirement s.

(c)  When laying down procedures for checking the suitability of materials used in explosives products attention should be paid to packaging components as well as explosive substances or articles. Safety and quality systems should cover not only new or modified product s but also a periodic review of established ones.

(d)  Safe systems of work should apply equally to product safety and manufacturing safety in order to comply with all HSWA requirements, notably sect ions 2, 3 and 6. Safety departments should have an input into all areas in which such duties are placed on the company.

(e)  Operators should ensure that the training of all their drivers and attendants in accord with the Road Traffic (Carriage of Explosives) Regulations 1989 is kept under review and brought up to date whenever circumstances change - for example when new products are to be carried, or changes are made to packing methods. The general training required by crews to allow them to comply with their duties under the Regulations, whether provided 'in house' or by external training companies, must be supplemented by training on the specific product s to be carried and the particular measures to be adopted when mixing loads. The responsibilities of the driver, including those for loading and unloading, should be clearly defined by the operator.

(f)  All movements of explosives should be pre-planned with clear instructions issued concerning the loading and layout of the vehicle and the emergency information to be carried. Procedures should be available to verify that only explosives which have been properly packaged, classified and authorised are carried.

(g)  Before carrying explosives of different compatibility groups together, in particular detonators. Operators should take effective measures to comply with the legal requirement that there should be no increased risk. Such measures should ensure that the different types are prevented from corning into contact with one another when their packaging is degraded whether through partial explosion of the contents or fire. Since the most likely mean s of detonators coming into contact with the rest of the load is by scattering, the simple approach of segregation by open space is unlikely to succeed. Operators will need to consider alternative measures such as fi re­ resistant overpacking or mesh barriers to prevent the effects of the detonators initiating or thrown detonators reaching, the rest of the load.

91  The acceptability of carriage of mixed loads of detonators with other explosives should be reviewed by HSE depending on the progress in developing effective measures 10 prevent increased danger as in recommendation 90(g).

92  The feasibility of additional placarding or other warning devices to heighten the perception of the public of the hazard of explosives vehicles should be considered by HSE in consultation with other relevant government departments and the explosives industry.

93  The provision for double manning of vehicles while in motion recommended in paragraph 22 of the Approved Code of Practice to Regulation ll of the 1989 Regulations, should be retained in any future proposals for amendment.

94  Consideration should be given by HSE to the deletion of paragraph 4(b) (iii) of Schedule 3 of the Road Traffic (Carriage of Explosives) Regulations 1989 so that articles of hazard code 1.4G may be carried with substances of compatibility group D only if effective measures are taken to ensure that the carriage of such mixed loads does not lead 10 increased danger.  Further consideration should be given to how this would affect other permitted mixed loads.

95  Systems to prevent the spread of fire within the vehicle load compartments should be studied by industry and their suitability for use in explosives transport assessed.  This would include both active and passive systems such as fire-resistant packaging material. Physical resistant barriers and detection and extinguishing methods.

96  The guidance given to emergency services should be reviewed to provide improved information and instructions on how to deal with emergencies involving explosives vehicles.  This has commenced through the normal liaison routes in HSE and should continue on a periodic basis to ensure guidance is in step with developments in the explosives industry.

97  Evidence from the pathologist at the inquest on John Philip Humphries and from individual fire crew members described how certain items of personal protective equipment had sustained damage in the blast incident.  The Coroner himself raised the question of the lack of a visor to Fireman Humphries' helmet and the possibility that one might have saved his life.  The integrity and suitability of the basic cloth uniform became an issue, as did the suitability of the PVC type waterproof leggings ('wet legs') which melted onto some injured crew members following the blast.

Reference was made to the specification to which protective clothing was manufactured and the particular point was made that these specifications were being revised by the Home Office.

98  How information should be used by the fire service is a matter for the service itself to determine. However it is recommended that the written instructions carried by the transport vehicle crew should include information to enable the emergency services to make the difficult judgements in priorities between evacuation and firefighting, and on precautions to be taken concerning blast protection.  The matters raised in this and the previous paragraph have been drawn to the attention of HM Chief Inspector of Fire Services via the normal routes in HSE.

--end--

IFE Commentary & lessons if applicable

None produced at this time.

Known available source documents

Further information hoping to be identified and still to be located.

FRS Incident Report/s

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.

FBU Incident Report/s

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.

Health & Safety Executive (HSE) Incident Report/s and/or improvement notices

The Health and Safety Executive. (1989). The Peterborough explosion, a report of the investigation by The Health and Safety Executive into the explosion of a vehicle carrying explosives at Fengate Industrial Estate, Peterborough on 22nd March 1989. [pdf]. Available at https://www.icheme.org/~/media/Documents/Subject%20Groups/Safety_Loss_Prevention/HSE%20Accident%20Reports/The%20Peterborough%20Explosion.pdf [Accessed 1st December 2016].

Merryfield, R. (1989). Report on The Peterborough Explosion, Peterborough, UK; 22 March 1989 blast damage and injuries. [pdf]. The Health and Safety Executive H M Explosives Inspectorate.

Cambridgeshire Constabulary Incident Report/s

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.

East of England Ambulance Service Incident Report

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.

Building Research Establishment (BRE) Reports/investigations/research

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.  

Coroner’s report/s and/or regulation 28 notices

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.

Other information sources

Further information hoping to be identified and still to be located.

ITV News. (2014). 25th anniversary of devastating Peterborough explosion. [online]. Available at  http://www.itv.com/news/anglia/2014-03-21/25th-anniversary-of-devastating-peterborough-explosion/ [Accessed 4th September 2016].

Service learning material

Further information hoping to be identified and still to be located.

Unknown author. (unknown date). Fengate Case Study. [PowerPoint Presentation]. Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service.

Videos available

Further information hoping to be identified and still to be located.

ITV news. (2014). 25th anniversary of devastating Peterborough explosion. [online]. Available at http://www.itv.com/news/anglia/2014-03-21/25th-anniversary-of-devastating-peterborough-explosion/ [Accessed 2nd August 2016].

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