Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Is Chemical Process Safety OSHA's Next Target?

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Is Chemical Process Safety OSHA's Next Target?

Article excerpt

Last Oct. 23, explosions and fire killed 23 workers and injured 130 more at Phillips 66 CO.'s petrochemical plant in Pasadena, Tex. OSHA's investigation revealed that the primary cause of the accident was the release of a mixture of four highly flammable gases from an open valve between a reactor vessel and a product settling leg during maintenance operations. The initial explosion had the force of 2.4 tons of TNT and was equivalent to an earthquake the magnitude of 3.5 on the Richter scale, according to the Labor Department.

According to Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole, the accident was "avoidable had recognized safety procedures been followed." She said, "OSHA has uncovered internal Phillips documents that called for corrective action but which were largely ignored."

Based on those findings, OSHA decided to invoke its egregious enforcement policy. Phillips was cited for 566 alleged willful violations, with a proposed penalty of $10,000 for each one, and nine alleged serious violations at $6,200. The total proposed penalties against Phillips, $5,666,200, were the second-largest ever against a company for a single inspection.

Also cited was one of Phillips" service contractors, Fish Engineering and Construction Inc. OSHA proposed a $4,000 egregious penalty for each of 181 alleged willful violations. Fish Engineering also was cited for 12 alleged serious violations for $5,500 and one other-than-serious for $100, bringing its total to $729,600. The total for the two companies: $6,395,800. At presstime, both companies indicated an intention to contest the citations.

In its enforcement action, OSHA concluded that, although it could cite no violations of specific standards, the actions of the two companies were in violation of the general duty clause. The agency said the alleged willful violations fell into three broad categories failure to: prevent the uncontrolled release of flammable vapors; minimize or mitigate the consequences of a release of flammable materials; and provide adequate fire protection.

According to Assistant Secretary of Labor-OSHA Gerard F. Scannell," ...the plant's approach to safety and health has not been pursued with adequate management commitment to protect the lives and well-being of Phillips employees. …

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