Refinery and plant explosions can be broken down into three main categories – poor maintenance, dirty chemicals, and safety violations. Maintaining the high tech equipment used at refineries is a full time job and unseen corrosion can weaken metal, reducing a pipe’s capacity to withstand high pressures. However, when a refinery company attempts to cut corners by cutting down on maintenance, a refinery explosion is often the result.
Dirty chemicals are the second common cause of refinery explosions. The cocktail of chemicals used in the refinery process must be pure. The addition of dirty chemicals can lead to unforeseen reactions placing refinery employees at risk for fires, explosions, and respiratory failure.
A Classification Issue
When we think of how different places of business are classified, we generally don’t have to think twice. A restaurant is a restaurant, a bank is a bank, and a law office is generally classified as a law office. However, if a chemical plant classified itself as a retailer, you might think twice about why that could be, right? Unfortunately, a recently introduced Farm Bill may allow chemical companies to bypass classification rules and other important regulations.
A recent Houston Chronicle article found a small provision in a new Farm Bill could potentially exempt the entire chemical manufacturing industry from key workplace safety rules and regulations. This could in turn jeopardize the health of workers and their overall wellbeing. Officials from the Department of Labor have said the provision would create a broad exemption from Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards for managing highly hazardous chemicals and could even have the unintended consequence of allowing large chemical facilities to skirt the rules by claiming to be retail storefronts.
Labor Department officials have written that, “this could effectively eliminate the entire chemical manufacturing sector from coverage of the (OSHA) standard, jeopardizing the health and safety for chemical workers.”
In fact, not that long ago an explosion at a West, Texas fertilizer plant killed 15 people while injuring more than 200. In the explosion’s aftermath, OSHA attempted to clarify existing rules in order to ensure incidents like the West, Texas plant explosion would face increased scrutiny. Unfortunately, a Dallas Morning News investigation in 2013 found there were many more facilities just like the West Fertilizer Company in Texas alone. The investigation found 19 sites that each continued to store at least 10,000 pounds of fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate within half a mile of a school, hospital, or nursing home and at least 170 additional plants that held some quantity of fertilizer —many in wood framed buildings.
The fertilizer industry ultimately sued to stop OSHA’s attempts to further clarify these regulations and began a push and pull battle between lobbyists and chemical safety advocates on the right ways to regulate these potentially dangerous plants. Furthermore, after the 2016 presidential election, the Trump administration sought to roll back the Obama presidency reforms.
The new provision within the Farm Bill passed the House in June of this year, and is being hashed out in a Senate conference committee, which has approved its own bill without OSHA exemption.
As part of the overhaul of chemical safety rules ordered by Obama, OSHA issued a “guidance document” to clarify which facilities would be considered retailers and would therefore be exempt. The fertilizer industry challenged OSHA’s guidelines in court and won.
Consequently, little has changed with OSHA regulations since the West fertilizer plant explosion and its fallout. It’s still unclear who is considered a retailer under OSHA process safety regulations. The Chemical Safety Board’s recommendation to consider ammonium nitrate a hazardous chemical has not been considered by OSHA or Congress.
Lubbock Refinery Accident Lawyers
Have you suffered injuries after a refinery explosion? If so, contact Liggett Law Group to speak with one of our Lubbock Refinery accident lawyers. Our team is experienced representing injured workers and their families. Call us today to schedule a free consultation.