Posting on behalf of Jeff…
The United Steelworkers (USW) reports that there have been at least six refinery fires in the last two-and-a-half weeks. The most recent was at LyondellBasell in Houston on May 17 in a crude distillation unit, where residual oil and diesel fuel caught fire. No one was injured but residents were told to shut their windows and stay inside.
Other fires include one on May 5 at AGE Refining in San Antonio, Texas, where two workers were injured; a flange fire at Valero’s Corpus Christi, Texas, refinery on May 10; a boiler fire at Marathon’s Garyville, La., refinery on May 11 that injured two workers; a day later on May 12 there was a fire at the Evergreen Oil Refinery in Newark, Calif.; and on May 17 a small fire occurred at Shell’s Deer Park, Texas, facility.
The union says there may be more since refineries have no legal obligation to report every incident. USW has been lobbying for a requirement of public reporting of incidents.
“On average a fire a week occurs at one of the nation’s refineries,” says USW Vice President Gary Beevers. “Like the lack of attention paid to health and safety on the industry’s offshore oil rigs, the industry fails to develop a safety culture within the refining sector.”
The BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico has brought added attention to oil industry safety. In a report issued May 16, the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity found that 97% of all flagrant worker safety violations in the refining industry over the last three years were at two BP refineries.
The study, based on freedom of information requests to OSHA, found that BP received 862 citations between June 2007 and February 2010 for alleged violations at refineries in Texas City, Texas, and Toledo, Ohio.
Nearly all were classified as “egregious willful” or “willful.” Willfull is defined as “committed with plain indifference to or intententional disregard for empoloyee safety and health.” Almost all of the citations were for process safety management violations. The company was hit with $90 million in fines.
The state of Washington Labor & Industries Department has also updated its ongoing investigation of the fatal accident at Tesoro Refinery in Anacordes, Wash. The department says its crews have begun dismantling heat exchangers, where they think the April 2 accident (C&EN) is likely to have occurred. The death toll from the accident had grown to seven workers, after two who were badly injured died.
Washington state officials note that access to the area of the refinery where the blast occurred had been limited due to asbestos concerns as well as structural problems.
The Tesoro explosion was the state’s deadliest industrial disaster in the 37 years that L&I has been enforcing the state’s workplace safety law, the department added. The department, which has OSHA authority in Washington, is coordinating its investigation with the Chemical Safety Board, which is examining the site for the accident’s cause.