Recent Incidents Point to Using Health and Safety Contract Language to Prevent Repeat Problems in Oil Industry

There have been an unusually high number of safety incidents at USW represented oil refineries in the past month, including four fires and a small explosion. While we were fortunate that no one was seriously injured in any of these cases, this month has served as an important reminder that there are inherent dangers in our industry. This industry sees damage to its public image, what we see is injury to workers. We as USW-represented workers can help shape the safety culture in our workplaces.

Our union contracts contain important health and safety language. This includes the right to refuse unsafe work, joint labor-management health and safety committees and full-time, union health and safety representatives and process safety representatives.

The health and safety and process safety representatives enable our union to work with management to investigate contributing causes of incidents and near misses.  These representatives also enable us as workers to participate in finding and reporting hazards, as well as working with management to find solutions to health and safety problems and track what actions they’re taking to resolve these issues.

Most importantly, we have the ability to share the lessons we’ve learned at our facilities with other plants owned by the same companies and across the sector. Subject to confidentiality restrictions, we can do this through our USW company councils, at the USW health, safety and environment conference, and via email to other councils in the oil sector.

This communication network can help keep others from repeating the same circumstances that led to safety problems in our own workplaces and ultimately prevent injuries and deaths.

Our union gives us power in our workplaces. We have legally binding contract language that gives us the tools and the authority to ensure companies put health and safety ahead of production and excessive profits. We must use these tools because our lives and the health of the surrounding communities depend upon it.

Below are links to some of the incidents in recent weeks:

HollyFrontier Refinery, El Dorado, Kan.

Calumet Montana Refinery, Great Falls, Mont.

ExxonMobil Refinery, Baytown, Texas

Phillips 66, Carson, Calif.

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