A 62-year-old male was killed when the tractor he was operating punctured an aboveground gas line. He had recently moved to the area and was in the process of acquiring some land for farming. The land was overgrown with weeds and brush about 5 feet high. On a warm, clear afternoon he went out to clear the land with a tractor and rotary mower. Although the incident was unwitnessed, apparently he began mowing the field near a roadway and was likely on the third pass when the front of the tractor ran into an aboveground valve of a natural gas pipeline (see Photographs 1 and 2) that was obscured by the overgrown brush. The 6-inch diameter steel pipe was punctured allowing natural gas to escape and causing an explosion that caught the tractor on fire and sent flames 40-50 feet into the air (see Photograph 3). By the time the first firefighters arrived on the scene, the fire had destroyed the tractor and had burned a 40-foot circle around it (see Photographs 4, 5, and 6). The victim’s body was found lying on the ground near the tractor, but rescue personnel could not reach him until the fire was contained almost an hour later. The coroner was called to the scene and pronounced the victim dead at 3:30 p.m. In order to prevent similar events from occurring, FACE investigators recommend to natural gas companies that:

  • Aboveground pipes and valves need to be clearly visible at all times, regardless of location, for safety and emergency purposes.
  • Regulations should be considered for maintaining the area around aboveground pipes and valves for visibility.
  • Aboveground sections of pipelines should be routinely checked for visibility and condition.

In addition, FACE investigators recommend new landowners should:

  • Obtain the deed or plat for the land to assess for possible hazards before beginning work on unfamiliar territory.

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