Chemical plants and oil refineries employ thousands of people in the Houston Metro Region and throughout the United States. But while these facilities are vital to the economy of Texas and the nation, working at a plant or refinery can be extremely dangerous.
With every plant and refinery housing heavy equipment and large amounts of hazardous materials, accidents and explosions — and the potential for serious and fatal injury — are constant threats. Because the risk to workers and surrounding communities is so great, federal agencies have been established to create and enforce safety regulations and investigate dangerous incidents that result in serious injury or death.
Plant and Refinery Accidents and Explosions are Almost Always Preventable
Having successfully represented thousands of workers across Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, and throughout the United States, our Undefeated Plant and Refinery Explosion Lawyers have found that most of these catastrophic accidents and explosions are entirely preventable and usually result from an operators’ decision to cut corners and ignore vital safety regulations.
Unfortunately, plant and refinery workers almost always pay the highest price for this negligence.
The Role of OSHA and the CSB in Plant and Refinery Regulation
In 1970, the U.S. Congress established the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to regulate workplace safety and ensure the health and safety of employees. OSHA accomplishes this mission by setting and enforcing strict safety standards, including many that apply to the nation’s numerous plants and refineries.
OSHA has jurisdiction over private-sector employers and their workers in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Wake Island, Johnston Island, and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands as defined in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.
Congress created the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) in 1990 as part of a bill to amend the federal Clean Air Act. This small, independent agency is tasked with determining the root causes of major chemical explosions and disasters in the United States. Although the CSB has no enforcement authority, its recommendations are frequently adopted by OSHA, other regulatory bodies, and industry and have been credited with saving countless lives.
OSHA Regulations Affecting Plants and Refineries
Employers – including plant and refinery operators — MUST provide their protect workers from serious hazards and comply with all OSHA safety and health standards. In addition, they must find and take steps to correct safety and health problems.
OSHA’s Construction, General Industry, Maritime and Agriculture standards protect workers from a wide range of serious hazards. Examples of these standards include:
- Provide fall protection
- Prevent exposure to some infectious diseases
- Ensure the safety of workers who enter confined spaces
- Prevent exposure to harmful chemicals
- Put guards on dangerous machines
- Provide respirators or other safety equipment
- Provide training for certain dangerous jobs in a language and vocabulary workers can understand.
OSHA Worker Training Requirements
OSHA requires plant and refinery operators to provide appropriate training for all new employees. This training should give workers a clear understanding of the facility’s operating procedures and emphasize employee safety and safe operating procedures.
Once new employees have undergone the initial training, plant and refinery owners must provide refresher training once every three years. However, refresher training may be provided more frequently if an employer deems it necessary.
During training, the employer should keep a written record indicating the training date, the workers who participated, and that they understood the training.
Preventing Chemical Releases and Exposures
OSHA Process Safety Management (PSM) is a comprehensive federal regulation developed as part of the Clean Air Act Amendments that required the Department of Labor and the Environmental Protection Association to establish a safety standard to prevent accidental releases of chemicals that could pose a threat to employees and the environment.
Among other things, the PSM regulation requires employers to:
- Conduct a Process Hazard Analysis (PHA) to identify, evaluate, and control hazards.
- Document all operational procedures involving initial startup, normal operations, temporary operations, and emergency shutdowns.
- Be aware of the operating limits of each process, the consequences of process deviation, and be prepared to correct deviations when necessary.
- Perform a safety review before new or modified facilities begin production to confirm that an initial PHA has been performed and that all procedures comply with applicable codes, standards, and specifications.
- Conduct routine inspections of major process units and equipment, including pressure vessels, storage tanks, piping systems, relief and vent systems, emergency shutdown systems, control systems, and pumps.
- Issue hot work permits for workers performing welding and other high-temperature operations on equipment.
Investigating Plant and Refinery Accidents and Explosions
OSHA’s Process Management regulation also requires that plant and refinery operators thoroughly investigate any dangerous incident at their facility. The investigation should begin within 48 hours of the incident and include the following:
- When the incident occurred
- Details regarding the incident
- Factors that contributed to the incident
- When the investigation began
- What changes should be implemented to prevent a recurrence
Reporting Accidents, Explosions, and Injuries to OSHA
All employers, including plant and refinery operators, must notify OSHA when an employee is killed on the job or suffers a work-related hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye. This rule applies to all employers, including any exempt from OSHA record-keeping rules due to size or industry.
A workplace fatality must be reported within 8 hours, and a work-related hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye must be reported within 24 hours.
How OSHA Enforces Workplace Safety Regulations
OSHA enforces its regulations and standards by conducting workplace inspections. Because the agency has jurisdiction over more than 7 million workplaces, inspections are scheduled based on the following priorities:
- Imminent danger
- Catastrophes, defined as any explosion or accident that results in worker fatalities or hospitalizations
- Worker complaints and referrals
- Targeted inspections, including workplaces with particular hazards or high injury rates
- Follow-up inspections
When an inspector finds violations of OSHA standards or serious hazards, they may issue citations and fines. A citation includes methods an employer may use to fix a problem and the date by which the corrective actions must be completed.
OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program focuses enforcement efforts on employers who willfully and repeatedly endanger workers by exposing them to serious hazards. Employers designated as Severe Violators face mandatory follow-up inspections and inspections of other worksites within the company where similar hazards may exist.
How the Chemical Safety Board Investigates Chemical Disasters
As a non-regulatory agency, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) works to improve safety at plants, refineries, and industrial facilities through independent investigations to identify the root causes of major chemical incidents in the United States. Currently, these facilities must report any incident that results in an accidental chemical release from a stationary source, AND which caused a fatality, serious injury, or significant property damage, to the Board within 8 hours of the incident.
The CSB investigative staff includes chemical and mechanical engineers, industrial safety experts, and other specialists with experience in the private and public sectors.
After an investigative team arrives at an accident or explosion site, they will conduct detailed interviews with plant employees, managers, neighbors, and other witnesses. The team will also collect chemical samples and equipment for testing by independent laboratories. Finally, the investigators will carry out an in-depth examination of the facility’s safety records, inventories, and operating procedures.
The investigative process generally takes six to 12 months, at which point a report is submitted to the Board for consideration. If the Board votes to adopt a report, new safety recommendations will be issued to government agencies, companies, trade associations, labor unions, and other groups.
Very often, findings from CSB investigations apply to many organizations beyond the company investigated. While some recommendations are implemented immediately, others may require extensive advocacy before they are adopted by industry. In such cases, Board members and staff will work to promote the implementation of CSB recommendations.
Our Undefeated Plant and Refinery Explosion Lawyers Can Help. Call 1-888-603-3636 or Click Here for a Free Consult.
Having won billions – including Record-Breaking Verdicts and Settlements — for workers and families following the worst industrial disasters in recent history, our Undefeated Plant and Refinery Explosion Lawyers have a deep understanding of the safety laws and regulations intended to protect workers, and they know how to use that knowledge to win against the largest corporations in the world.
If you or a loved one were injured or tragically killed while working at a plant or refinery, you must take the necessary steps to protect your future. Please call 1-888-603-3636 or Click Here to submit a confidential email through our “Contact Us” form.
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