New Investigative Report Shines Light on Training Faults in WIPP Fire Case

The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management has released an accident investigation report analyzing the underground mine fire at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in February.

According to an article from, the fire involved a salt haul truck and 86 workers. Though everyone was evacuated, six workers were taken to Carlsbad Medical Center for smoke inhalation treatment and seven other workers were treated on site.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) says, “The WIPP facility is designed for the excavation of eight panels branching off of the main drifts. WIPP uses the concept of ‘just-in-time excavation.’ Just-in-time excavation is based on the concept that when additional room is needed for waste disposal, a new panel would be excavated and ready for use ‘just in time.’ This means that each panel would be excavated, filled, and closed in a time frame that would minimize the potential for developing hazardous ground conditions.”

In the report, the events leading up to the fire are described. It states, “An operator picked up a load of salt using haul truck 74-U-006B at Panel 8 at approximately 10:45 and headed north on W-170 toward the loading pocket to dump the load… The operator pulled into N-300, backed up into E-0, and unloaded the rest of the truck. As the operator lowered the bed, he looked back to see if it was clear of muck. It was at this point that he noticed an orange glow and then flames between the engine and the dump sections of the truck.”

The report has found faults in the training WIPP workers received, and DOE managers have already taken note.

According to the article, “many workers had trouble donning their self contained self rescuers (SCSRs); 13 were unable to use theirs successfully, three never donned theirs at all, and 21 SCSRs did not open properly and could not be used. The facility did no training that simulates SCSR use in likely emergency conditions (limited visibility due to dark or smoke-filled areas), and the workers' annual refresher was a video that does not require donning of the SCSR.”

Joe Franco, DOE's Carlsbad Field Office manager, spoke to OHS Online.

“We take these findings seriously and, in fact, we are already implementing many of the corrective actions in the report,” said Franco.


For the full accident investigation report PDF, click here:
For the article, click here: