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United Steelworkers to BP: 'Blaming Workers Doesn't Solve the Problem'

The United Steelworkers (USW) is blasting a report issued by BP that places much of the blame for the fatal March 23 Texas refinery explosion on the shoulders of BP refinery workers.

A day after BP released what it's calling an "interim fatal accident investigation report" into the explosion that killed 15 workers and injured more than 170 people at its oil refinery in Texas City, Texas, USW Region Six Director Gary Beevers asserted that "BP has not taken responsibility for its unsafe design flaws and process safety procedures. Blaming workers doesn't solve the problem of unsafe conditions in that refinery."

"If the company had taken the union's advice to pipe the atmospheric vent -- where the hydrocarbons were released -- to the flare system, and if the company had not violated its own policy and issued themselves a variance in order to place the trailer in the middle of a dangerous unit, there would have been no fire and there would have been no deaths," Beevers said.

BP's interim investigation report, released May 17, concludes that the March 23 explosion occurred because BP unit managers and operators in the isomerization unit "greatly overfilled and then overheated" the unit's raffinate splitter, a tower that is part of the isomerization unit. As a result of the mistake, flammable hydrocarbons were forced into the adjacent blow down system, which spewed the materials from a 113-foot-high stack just seconds before the explosion, according to eyewitness accounts.

A BP spokesperson would not comment on the union's specific allegations, noting that the interim investigation report "speaks for itself." The company issued a statement reiterating assertions made in the report that "the primary factor was a failure to follow operating procedures and a failure of supervision."

"The decisions to locate the trailers in the vicinity of the unit and the use of a blow down stack as part of the pressure relief system on the isomerization unit were factors that contributed to the severity of the incident," the company said. "All of these issues are important factors in the event, and we are addressing all of them to create a Texas City workplace that is as safe as we can make it."

USW says it will assign "outside health and safety experts" to work with the federal agencies investigating the explosion in order to determine the root cause of the explosion. USW also plans to work closely with other USW local affiliates to see if "similar process safety problems are occurring at other refineries."

"As a union, we will do everything in our power to ensure that our members who were disciplined by BP are treated fairly, and are not blamed for mistakes made by their supervisors or by higher level BP management," said USW President Leo Gerard.

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