Union Expresses Outrage that Disasters Still Occurring Amid Industry Inaction
Contact: Lynne Baker, USW Communications, o) 615-831-6782, c) 615-828-6169
(Pittsburgh)—The United Steelworkers (USW) today said that the refinery industry has failed to learn from past disasters and that its 2007 report, Beyond Texas City: The State of Process Safety in the Unionized U.S. Oil Refining Industry is more relevant than ever in light of the April 2 Tesoro explosion and fire that killed five workers and critically injured two others.
“It is totally unacceptable that the refining industry continues to fail in securing the safety of workers, surrounding communities and our nation’s energy supplies,” said USW Vice President Gary Beevers, who is in charge of the union’s oil sector. “We can no longer tolerate industry’s failure to follow OSHA and EPA regulations and its inability to learn from recurring disasters, and its refusal to commit the resources necessary to prevent these tragedies.”
Nine months following the March 23, 2005 explosion and fire at BP’s Texas City refinery that killed 15 workers and injured 180 others, the Tony Mazzocchi Center for Health, Safety and Environmental Education joined with the USW to survey and examine potentially catastrophic conditions at 51 refineries across the U.S.
The industry-wide survey showed refiners were not following the letter and spirit of OSHA’s process safety standard. When survey respondents rated 16 process safety systems for start-ups or shutdowns, 87 percent said the overall management of process safety systems at their sites was less than very effective – a level deemed necessary for such dangerous operations.
The report concluded:
- There remains an alarming potential for future refinery disasters.
- The refining industry has stubbornly resisted opportunities for learning and improvement from years of disasters.
- The highly hazardous conditions similar to those found at BP Texas City were still pervasive in U.S. refineries months following that disaster.
- Industry response since Texas City has been anemic.
- The letter and the spirit of OSHA’s Process Safety Standard remain unfulfilled.
- Should an emergency occur, refineries are not sufficiently prepared.
While the USW noted in the report that strong proactive OSHA regulation and enforcement are essential, it also called on the industry to take urgent critical actions to address major deficiencies. Included among these were ensuring that all non-essential personnel are outside of hazardous areas (vulnerability zones), especially during start-ups, shutdowns, or other unstable operating conditions.
The union also called on refiners to develop and implement policies requiring full safety reviews prior to all process start-ups and scheduled shutdowns.
“Our union will fight as long and hard as it takes to gain real protection for the lives and health of every worker,” said Beevers.
The USW is the largest industrial union in North America and has 850,000 members in the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean. It represents workers employed in metals, rubber, chemicals, paper, oil refining, atomic energy and the service sector.