OSHA Proposes $2.5 Million Penalty Against Phillips Chemical Complex

Just days after announcing a new plan to improve\r\nsafety at its Houston Chemical Complex, Phillips Chemical Co. has\r\nbeen fined $2.5 million by OSHA.

Just days after announcing a new comprehensive plan to improve safety at its Houston Chemical Complex, Phillips Chemical Co. has been fined $2.5 million by OSHA for a March 27 explosion that killed one worker and injured 69.

(See story from 9/22 at www.occupationalhazards.com/news/news_loader.asp?articleID=29492)

Failure to train worker properly was a key factor in the accident at the HCC Plant in Pasadena, Texas, according to OSHA investigators.

The plant employs 850 workers who make high quality plastic resins for use in medical and consumer products.

HCC, doing business as Phillips Chemical Co., has been succeeded by Chevron Phillips Chemical Co.

Chevron Phillips CEO James Gallogly, said last week that the company has initiated a series of actions to further enhance safety at the HCC.

Now facing citations for 50 alleged safety violations, it seems as though the plan to turn safety around at Chevron Phillips may be more of a challenge than previously thought.

"Unfortunately, this tragedy is not an isolated incident, but one in a series of incidents at this site," said Labor Secretary Alexis M. Herman. "Three workers lost their lives in explosions at this plant in less than a year''s time, and 23 others were killed in a major explosion in 1989."

OSHA determined that the March explosion took place when a runaway chemical reaction occurred in a tank containing an unknown quantity of butadiene that burst the 12,000-gallon vessel.

This explosion resulted in a fire and damage to other nearby chemical tanks.

The butadiene tank was out of service for cleaning and had no pressure or temperature gauges that could have alerted workers in the control room to the impending hazard.

More importantly, workers were not trained in safety procedures for handling butadiene, and they were unaware of the potential for explosion, said OSHA.

In addition, while the vessel was not in use, butadiene continued to flow into the tank through a non-functioning valve that had not been properly locked out.

"We have cited similar violations again and again at this plant, yet tragedies continue to occur," said OSHA Administrator Charles Jeffress. "What is really needed here is a full reassessment of worker safety and health in all areas of the plant, significantly improved training for employees and a firm commitment from plant and corporate management to make safety an ongoing high priority. We recognize that the plant is now under new ownership and we look to the new owners to assure that the problems of the past do not continue."

As a result of the inspection, OSHA alleged:

  • 30 willful instance-by-instance violations for failure to train plant operators with a total proposed penalty of $2.1 million ($70,000 per instance);
  • four alleged willful violations of process safety management and lockout/tagout standards with a proposed penalty of $280,000;
  • two alleged repeat violations of the process safety management standard for a proposed penalty of $70,000;
  • 13 alleged serious violations with proposed penalties of $66,000; and
  • one other-than-serious violation with a proposed penalty of $1,000 for a total of 50 alleged violations with proposed penalties of $2,517,000.

OSHA inspected this site 46 times, including four inspections in 1999. Three of the 1999 inspections were related to explosions.

In June 1999, two workers died in an explosion in the same unit of the plant where the explosion occurred in March this year.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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