50th Anniversary of the Flixborough Disaster

1st June 2024 marks the 50th anniversary of the Flixborough disaster, a catastrophic explosion at the Nypro chemical plant near the village of Flixborough, North Lincolnshire. This tragic event remains one of the most significant industrial accidents in British history.

The Incident

The Nypro plant, jointly owned by Dutch State Mines and the National Coal Board, produced caprolactam, a chemical used in the manufacture of nylon. On that fateful Saturday, a massive explosion estimated to be in a range equivalent to 15-45 tonnes of TNT devastated the plant, killing 28 workers and injuring 36 others out of the 72 people on-site. The blast was so powerful that it was heard as far away as Grimsby and Doncaster, over 30 miles away. The explosion also caused extensive damage to properties in Flixborough and surrounding villages, although, fortunately, there were no fatalities outside the plant.

Causes and Consequences

The disaster was primarily attributed to a hasty and inadequately assessed modification to the plant’s equipment. A temporary bypass pipe was installed between reactors 4 and 6 after reactor 5 developed a crack. This modification was carried out without proper engineering drawings or calculations and was approved by managers who lacked mechanical engineering expertise. The pipe failed due to unanticipated stresses during a pressure surge, leading to the release of 10-15 tonnes of boiling cyclohexane, which formed a flammable vapor cloud that subsequently ignited.

Aftermath and Legacy

The Flixborough disaster led to a widespread public outcry and significant changes in process safety regulations. A public inquiry was conducted, and the official report published in 1975 highlighted the inadequacies in the safety analysis and management practices at the plant. The disaster underscored the need for thorough risk assessments and proper management of changes in industrial processes.

In response to the disaster, the UK government introduced more rigorous regulations for industrial safety. The Health and Safety at Work Act was passed in the same year, and the Control of Major Incident Hazards (CIMAH) Regulations were later established in 1984 (replace by the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations in 1999). The Flixborough disaster, along with the Seveso disaster in 1976, also influenced the development of the Seveso Directive in Europe, aimed at harmonising Member States legislation on the control of major accident hazards with the aim of preventing further major industrial accidents.


In the coming weeks, professional engineering institutions and other bodies will be creating opportunities for colleagues unfamiliar with the disaster to learn lessons and reflect upon their own practice. In addition, the North Lincolnshire Museum is hosting an exhibition titled “Flixborough 1974,” which will run from May to November 2024 and will feature eyewitness accounts, personal memories, photographs, videos, and historic objects.

The Flixborough disaster serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of process safety and the need for continuous vigilance in industrial operations. As we remember the lives lost and the lessons learned, it is crucial to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again. Whilst the Flixborough disaster occurred 50 years ago, I was fortunate in my early career to work with more senior colleagues who understood the importance of me and my peers learning from past disasters. I believe it is incumbent upon leaders working in all major hazard industries to ensure that all staff, and in particular future leaders, are afforded the same opportunities to understand and learn from past events. Indeed, that is why the Hazards Forum was founded in 1989 with its charitable object for the public benefit ‘to mitigate and reduce hazards and disasters both human-made and natural’. I encourage Hazards Forum members to embrace these learning opportunities so that the lessons from the Flixborough disaster do not fade, and instead remain alive in our memories and in our practice.

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