An operator injured after being exposed to lithium hydride powder at the Y-12 National Security Complex in early April sustained second-degree burns, primarily on the face and scalp, but has returned to work, federal officials said.
The operator, who is not identified in federal reports, also received some first-degree burns. But in two separate reports, officials said the employee’s injuries were healing as expected without complications, and the worker was expected to make a full recovery.
In April, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board reported that the operator was performing post-maintenance testing on a system used to recycle lithium hydride powder in Building 9204-2 and noticed an abnormal condition involving nitrogen leakage and some lithium hydride powder flowing from one of the valves on the system.
“The individual consulted with a system engineer on how to address this condition,” the DNFSB said. “Rather than recognizing the condition as abnormal and stopping work, both individuals agreed on a set of actions needed to complete the activity, including a verification that the valve was in the closed position. When the operator attempted to verify the position of the valve, lithium hydride powder discharged from the valve into the operator’s face.”
The report said the operator was wearing safety glasses with side shields, which was the eye protection specified for the job. After he was exposed to lithium hydride, the operator used a safety shower, and emergency response personnel transported the worker to a local hospital, the report said.
In mid-June, the employee remained under the care of a workers’ compensation lung specialist for lithium-induced bronchitis and bronchospasm requiring prescription medication, according to a report posted on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Health, Safety, and Security website. The report said Y-12 Occupational Health Services was providing follow-up monitoring.
B&W Y-12, which manages and operates Y-12, critiqued the event and identified corrective actions, the DNFSB said in May. Those actions—there are more than two dozen of them—are listed in the report posted on the HSS website.
The DNFSB said B&W Y-12 had established the following primary causes for the April 3 lithium hydride exposure: The equipment was stopped prior to completing a normal cycle, and the hazards associated with this abnormal condition were not recognized; the engineer provided direction to the operator without involving the supervisor; the hazard analysis did not identify the potential hazard associated with this abnormal condition; and the procedure was not appropriate for the post-work test and did not implement sufficient controls.
In a statement in mid-May, Y-12 said safety is a key factor in all activities at the plant, and “corrective actions intended to prevent recurrence will be implemented prior to resuming that work.”