Back in January I wrote about the serious safety concerns that are presented at U.S. oil refineries during times of economic downturn. Since then, things have not only failed to improve, they have become worse. Refiners have continued to experience the worst market conditions for the industry in close to thirty years, and as I pointed out in my January blog post, the result has been a continuous shift in corporate focus to profit survival, pulling vital resources from areas like plant safety programs.
While this phenomenon affects all petrochemical refinery workers across the country, it is especially prominent in South Texas. As I mentioned in my earlier blog post, a 2005 explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery that caused the deaths of 15 people was found to be the result of budget cuts across the board, including a reduction in the plant’s safety budget. Since the accident, BP and other petrochemical companies have spent billions to drastically overhaul facilities and programs.
However, even after this response, there were fourteen deaths at U.S. refineries in the three years after the 2005 explosion, including five at BP refineries, three of which were at the same Texas City facility. Indeed, according to a recent article in the Houston Chronicle, an October report by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that the overhauls have failed to correct serious safety issues. That report, combined with the news that BP and other domestic refiners have planned even more budget cuts in the near future, points to the very real possibility of increasingly dangerous conditions for refinery workers.
For almost 65 years, our firm has represented workers injured in petrochemical plant explosions and disasters. In the face of these recent reports, we hope that they are not a predictor of tough times to come for refinery employees in the Houston-Beaumont-Texas City-Galveston area.