Union Survey Finds BP Texas City Problems Pervasive Across U.S. Refineries

A survey conducted by the United Steelworkers union (USW) has found that the problems that contributed to the March 2005 blast at BP’s Texas City refinery aren’t only limited to that site, but also exist in refineries across the nation.

Titled “Beyond Texas City: The State of Process Safety in the Unionized U.S. Oil Refining Industry,” the union’s report is based on the results of a 64-item survey sent to local unions at 71 USW-represented refineries nine months following the Texas City explosion.

According to the survey, 90 percent of the 51 sites that responded said their facilities had at least one of the conditions, which led to the fatal Texas City blast. The conditions included use of atmospheric vents, failed management of instrumentation and alarm systems, and placement of trailers and allowance of non-essential personnel.

In addition, 61 percent of the respondents, representing 31 refineries, reported at least one incident or near miss involving at least one of the four contributing factors in the past three years.

Survey Results Similar to Previous BP Report Findings

Many of the refineries that had at least one of the four conditions reported after the BP explosion either did not take action or took actions judged as less than very effective. A review of past refinery disasters also revealed similar hazardous conditions being repeated and not learned from.

According to USW International President Leo Gerard, the findings were in line with the results of investigations of the Texas City blast by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board and an independent panel led by former Secretary of State James Baker III.

“Apparently, that incident did not make enough of an impression on refiners because they continue to not heed the lessons learned from the explosions, fires and other incidents plaguing the industry,” Gerard said.

The survey also found the following shortfalls:

  • Inadequate staffing.
  • Lack of safety preparedness for contract workers to enable them to contribute to incident prevention.
  • Insufficient refinery preparation for handling hazardous materials emergencies.
  • Lack of emergency response training for the general plant population.

“It is time for the oil industry to step up to the plate and promptly address these deficiencies in process safety,” said USW International Vice President Gary Beevers. “The oil companies can afford to do this and have a moral obligation to do so. A disaster like the explosion in Texas City is totally preventable.”

USW: Feds Should Help

Gerard and Beevers called on the refining sector to implement process safety measures while involving workers and their union representatives through its development.

They also stressed that the government should intervene by strengthening OSHA and EPA standards. Gerard and Beevers noted that more OSHA inspectors are needed and should be given extra time to handle process safety inspections.

“These proposals are doable, and while they can’t bring back the 15 workers killed at the BP Texas City refinery, they can make it harder for future deaths and injuries to occur,” Gerard said.

A copy of USW’s survey can be obtained at www.beyondtexascity.org.

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