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 issued today 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. The agency contended that inadequate pressure relief equipment could fail, which could potentially lead to another catastrophic incident.

In addition, four alleged serious violations relate to the failure to:

  • Identify, evaluate and address the hazards in the fractionator processing unit;
  • Ensure that piping and instrument diagrams were accurate;
  • Ensure the installation of the correct type of pressure relief valves; and
  • Ensure the use of intrinsically safe (non-sparking) electrical equipment in locations where flammable liquids and gases are processed.

BP spokesperson Scott Dean told OccupationalHazards.com 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.

As far as contesting the citations, Dean said BP will review the allegations before taking any action.

“We are reviewing the citations and the alleged violations and will respond to OSHA within 15 working days after we've completed our review and determined how we're going to proceed,” Dean said.

USW: Problems Reflect “Failure of System”

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.

The Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, in its final report of the incident, contended that lax federal oversight from OSHA, a poor corporate safety culture at BP and cost-cutting at the facility and corporate-wide were factors in the explosion.

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.”

TAGS: Archive OSHA
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