OSHA Refinery Audit Exposes Massive Violations

OSHA's nation-wide refinery audit revealed that 17 of the 81 targeted U.S. refineries so far have yielded 146 potentially life-threatening violations.

Richard Fairfax, OSHA's director of enforcement, told the Houston Chronicle he found the preliminary results “disturbing” and was looking into expanding OSHA's Petroleum Refinery Process Safety Management National Emphasis Program to include chemical plants.

He also said that he aims to extend the program beyond the initial 2-year period, which was the time frame OSHA designated to complete its investigations of the remaining 64 refineries.

OSHA uncovered violations at the following oil refineries in the past 8 months, which have resulted in a total of $896,300 in proposed penalties:

  • OSHA discovered 11 violations at the Total Petrochemicals refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, 45 at another plant in Canton, Ohio, and 19 at a Kansas facility.
  • The agency cited Frontier El Dorado Refining Co. of El Dorado for hazards associated with a permanently occupied structure that was located in a high hazard zone as well as failing to address fire, explosion and chemical hazards. OSHA proposed penalties totaling $153,500, but a spokesman from the Frontier Oil Corp., which owns the refinery, indicates the penalties will be contested.
  • At the Marathon petroleum Co. LLC, OSHA found that the company needed to protect its process piping external corrosion and that it needed to address equipment deficiencies related to pressure relief devices and toxic and flammable gas/vapor detectors, among other hazards. The company agreed to pay $321,500 in fines and already has taken corrective action to eliminate unsafe working conditions, OSHA said.
  • Citgo also reached a settlement with OSHA and agreed to pay fines totaling $155,250 after the agency discovered process safety issues, as well as fire hazards and inadequate training at the company's Lemont refinery.
  • At Murphy Oil USA, OSHA found during its investigation that alarms used to alert operators of failing positive pressure systems were deactivated and not continuously monitored. This, along with other violations associated with fall protection, emergency action and response plans and lockout/tagout procedures, prompted OSHA to issue fines totaling $179,100, which the company agreed to pay.

Similar findings were revealed in a survey conducted by the United Steelworkers union (USW) in 2007, which suggested that the problems that contributed to the March 2005 blast at BP’s Texas City facility were pervasive in refineries across the nation. USW represents 30,000 refinery workers nationwide. For more on the USW survey, read Union Survey Finds BP Texas City Problems Pervasive Across U.S. Refineries.

According to the Chronicle, refineries suffered 29 fatalities from 2005 to February 2008, including18 that occurred at the BP Texas City refinery in four incidents. The 2005 BP Texas City explosion, which killed 15 workers and injured 180 others, drew public attention to U.S. refinery hazards.

OSHA's Petroleum Refinery Process Safety Management National Emphasis Program was launched in 2007 as a result of a report issued by the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, which alleged that OSHA neglected enforcement of its process safety management standard (29 CFR 1910.119, Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals) at oil and petrochemical facilities across the country.

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