OSHA Gets Heavy With BP's Texas City Plant

OSHA fined BP Products North America $92,000 on July 20 for violations found at the BP Texas City refinery near Houston, the site where a March 2005 explosion killed 15 employees and injured 170, as part of an ongoing monitoring program for the refinery.

The citations, issued following an inspection of the refinery, included four violations of safety rules related to process safety management and one for rules related to hazardous locations.

“The citations …are based on the identification of hazardous conditions similar to those that led to the tragic March 2005 explosion,” said Dean McDaniel, OSHA's regional administrator in Dallas.

The company was cited for alleged willful failure to ensure that a pressure relief system on the plant's fractionator vessel conforms to industry codes, as well as for four other alleged serious violations. The agency contended that inadequate pressure relief equipment could fail, which potentially could lead to another catastrophic incident.

BP Responds

On Aug. 10, BP issued a statement affirming that “BP Products North America is contesting the alleged violations and the proposed penalties and abatement dates recently announced by OSHA after an inspection earlier this year at the BP Texas City refinery.”

BP spokesperson Scott Dean told Occupational Hazards that the company already had identified the issues associated with the pressure relief system on the fractionator and had put safeguards in place. He said BP ordered a new fractionator tower in 2006 that has modified pressure relief system. It is scheduled to be installed at the refinery in 2008, according to Dean.

According to the United Steelworkers (USW) union, the latest OSHA fine levied against BP “shows that the company's safety and health problems are systematic across its refineries and not solely due to human error.”

“This goes to show that the safety and health problems at BP are not solely a result of employee error and are a failure of the system as a whole,” said USW District 13 Director Gary Beevers. “We hope this fine convinces BP to stop pointing to operator error as a root cause of the Texas City explosion.”

The fines issued on July 20 follow a $21.3 million fine OSHA issued to BP in September 2005 in connection with the explosion and are the latest development in a long-running regulatory process. In 2005, the agency found that BP had committed more than 300 willful violations and the fine levied on BP reflected the seriousness of the alleged violations and is the largest ever imposed by the agency.

To demonstrate continued federal oversight on the refinery, OSHA issued a statement claiming that the agency “has continued to inspect and to monitor abatement of citations issued to BP in September 2005 following the fatal explosion and fire at Texas City, as well as BP's compliance with an agreement signed at the time the 2005 citations were issued, under which BP agreed to address [process safety management] systems and equipment throughout the refinery.”

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