Explosives safety

Explosives safety

Explosives safety originated as a formal program in the US in the aftermath of World War I when several ammunition storage areas were destroyed in a series of mishaps. The most serious occurred at Lake Denmark Naval Ammunition Storage Depot, New Jersey, in July, 1926 when an electrical storm led to fires that caused explosions and widespread destruction. The severe property damage and 19 fatalities led Congress to empower a board of Army and Naval officers to investigate the Lake Denmark disaster and determine if similar conditions existed at other ammunition depots. The board reported in its findings that this mishap could recur, prompting Congress to establish a permanent board of colonels to develop explosives safety standards and ensure compliance beginning in 1928. This organization evolved into the Department of Defense Explosives Safety Board (DDESB) and is chartered in Title 10 of the US Code. Today, the DDESB authors DOD 6055.9-STD, Ammunition and Explosives Safety Standards. It also evaluates scientific data which may adjust those standards, reviews and approves all explosives site plans for new construction, and conducts worldwide visits to locations containing US title munitions.

US Air Force

The US Air Force counterpart to the DDESB is the Air Force Safety Center (AFSC/SEW). Similarly safety functions are found at major command headquarters, intermediate command headquarters and at unit level as the weapons safety office. Quantity-Distance (QD) has evolved into the foundation of DOD 6055.9-STD, Ammunition and Explosives Safety Standards.


Quantity-Distance criteria represents physical limits which can not be breached without incurring unacceptable risks. The US Air Force learned a series of costly lessons in Southeast Asia when quantity-distance rules were violated and mass propagation of explosions were the result of a mishap. The most damaging occurred a Bien Hoa AB, South Vietnam in 1965 when an anti-disturbance fuse functioned and detonated a bomb loaded aboard an A-1E aircraft. Before the explosions and fire could be controlled, 133 casualties had occurred and 14 aircraft were destroyed. Since that time, while US Air Force explosives mishaps have been minimal, other nations have ignored quantity-distance laws resulting in very costly explosives mishaps. In the past few decades, multiple explosives propagation mishaps in the Soviet Union and Pakistan have caused catastrophic destruction and major loss of life.

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