One USW Oil Worker Burned Seriously in Valero Refinery Fire in Memphis
Contact: Lynne Baker, USW Communications, o) 615-831-6782, c) 615-828-6169
(Pittsburgh)—The United Steelworkers Union (USW) today chastised the oil industry for the series of fires and explosions that keep happening at refineries around the country, resulting in unnecessary injuries and deaths. One USW member was seriously burned in a fire that happened April 29 at the Valero refinery in Memphis.
According to the listing of refinery events on the Department of Energy’s website, there is a weekly fire at one of the nation’s refineries. In 2009 there were 46 fires and explosions. So far this year there have been 18 fires and explosions. Six of the fires and explosions this year at refineries have resulted in 10 injuries and nine deaths.
Most of the fires are due to process safety problems, such as malfunctioning equipment. These fires are a lagging indicator of safety, meaning they are an after-the-fact measure of safety performance.
There could have been more fires than those reported because refineries have no legal obligation to report every incident. When USW health and safety personnel were in talks with the American Petroleum Institute (API) regarding the creation of a standard for process safety indicators, they argued for greater public reporting of incidents. The API and the oil companies voted the union’s recommendation down.
“The frequency of these fires indicates the lack of attention refiners are paying toward process safety and shows they are not learning the lessons from previous incidents,” said USW International Vice President Gary Beevers, who is in charge of the union’s oil sector. “Too many refinery employees are getting injured or killed.”
Since April 2, there have been 40 injuries and deaths in the oil industry. Seven workers were killed as a result of the April 2 explosion and fire at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Wash. Twelve days later on April 14, three workers were injured, one seriously, in a fire at ExxonMobil’s Baton Rouge, La., refinery. A contractor died five days later on April 19 in a crane accident at the Motiva Enterprises expansion project in Port Arthur, Texas. One day later on April 20 the Deepwater Horizon oil-drilling rig exploded, injuring 15 workers, seven critically. Eleven other workers were never found. Nine days later, two workers and one supervisor were injured, one seriously, in a fire April 29 at Valero Energy Corp.’s Memphis refinery.
“Whether it is a refinery, a refinery construction site or an oil rig, the oil industry does not pay enough attention and money to health and safety within the sector,” Beevers charged. “The oil companies have a duty to provide a safe workplace for their employees and they have strayed from their responsibility.”
At the Valero Memphis refinery, a USW member, who is an operator, was burned on 60 percent of his body as a result of a fire that broke out at the Selective Hydrogenation Unit. He was taken to Memphis Regional Medical Center and was in stable condition the next day. The USW’s Emergency Response Team is helping the operator’s family and is investigating the incident with the company. Tennessee has a state OSHA plan, and the USW is hopeful that state regulators consult with the national OSHA if the state regulatory agency does not have experts on process safety management.
The Valero Memphis refinery has had fires before and other incidents, including a 1999 chemical release that sent 11 people to hospitals, reported The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis.
The same day as the Memphis refinery fire there was another fire at ConocoPhillips’s joint venture Wood River refinery in Roxana, Ill. No one was injured in that incident.
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.
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