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Safety board hits OSHA, BP management

March 26, 2007 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 85, Issue 13

Blame for an accident at a petroleum refinery that killed 15 workers and injured 170 two years ago was placed on "organizational and safety deficiencies at all levels of the BP Corporation" in a final 335-page report from the federal Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB). The catastrophic accident occurred at BP's Texas City, Texas, refinery when a distillation tower and attached blowdown drum were overfilled with highly flammable liquid hydrocarbons that exploded because of a defective safety system. CSB says the company was aware of the problem years before and failed to take action due to cost. Noting a history of plant process safety failures, the board urges that BP add a process safety expert to its board of directors and that BP and other petrochemical and chemical companies more closely examine their process safety programs. CSB also urges OSHA to increase inspection and enforcement at U.S. refineries and chemical plants and to require corporate leaders to evaluate the safety impact of mergers, downsizings, and budget cuts. OSHA, the board notes, had conducted only one full inspection at the plant in the 20 years preceding the 2005 accident, despite 10 deaths at the facility. The deaths resulted in $77,860 in fines; after the 2005 explosion, OSHA levied $21 million in fines. In a statement, BP says it strongly disagrees with portions of the report but will give it full consideration along with many activities already under way to improve process safety. A company spokesman would not comment on specifics of the report.


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