Lead Azide Detonation at Detonator Manufacturing Facility
An employee of a California based United States Defense contractor was seriously injured after a 5-gram charge of dextrinated lead azide detonated in her hand, while she was hand transporting the explosive at a facility that manufactured detonators for the US military. The employee lost her hand and suffered significant burn injuries to her torso and lacerations on her face. At the time of the accident, she was not wearing approved flame retardant clothing and OSHA approved face protection equipment.
Exponent was retained by the United States Government to conduct an engineering investigation of the incident, determine if the employee was required to wear appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and determine if the PPE would have prevented the burn and laceration injuries.
Lead azide is a primary explosive, with strong brisance (fragmentation) properties. It is widely used in detonator manufacturing operations because it has a stable shelf life. However, it is extremely sensitive to stray ignition sources (including electrostatic discharge) and becomes shock sensitive if it is crystallized.
Exponent audited the manufacturing operations of the Defense contractor against applicable Federal and State regulations and industry accepted practices from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the Institute of Makers of Explosives (IME) and the International Society of Explosives Engineers (ISEE). We also conducted tests to determine if appropriate PPE would have protected the employee from the burn and laceration injuries.