The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has fined the Houston-based TPC Group more than $500,000, after concluding that a trio of “willful” violations led to a violent explosion that rocked the company’s Port Neches, Texas petrochemical plant last November.
OSHA defines a willful violation as any violation in which an employer either knowingly failed to comply with a legal requirement or acted with plain indifference to employee safety.
TPC Port Neches Explosion Injured 3, Forced Thousands to Evacuate
The TPC Port Neches explosion erupted shortly after 1:00 a.m. on November 27th. Several employees noticed a butadiene leak just before the blast and attempted to evacuate the area. But the vapor cloud created by the highly-flammable liquid ignited, injuring three workers and setting off a fire that would continue to burn for days.
The blast also caused widespread damage to the surrounding community and forced the evacuation of more than 60,000 residents of Port Neches, Groves, Nederland, Central Gardens, Beauxart Gardens, and parts of Port Arthur through Thanksgiving Day. They were not permitted to return until Friday, when the fire was mostly contained.
A voluntary evacuation order was issued for Port Neches less than a week later, after monitoring picked up high levels of butadiene – a known carcinogen – in the area. That order was also lifted the following day.
OSHA Hits TPC Group with Maximum Fines
Following months of investigation, inspectors with OSHA have concluded that the TPC Group failed to provide updated instructions on how to shut down affected equipment, failed to fix deficient equipment that could have caused the explosion or alerted workers to a problem, and failed to use proper procedures on a pipeline design known to cause issues when using butadiene.
“Employers are required to conduct regular inspections and address potential hazardous conditions associated with chemical processes to prevent catastrophic events from occurring,” Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt said in a statement issued on Tuesday. “OSHA has extensive resources available to help employers and workers understand requirements for process safety management.”
The TPC Group was assessed $134,937 – the maximum penalty – for each of the three violations, bringing the total fine to $514,692. The company has 15 days to dispute OSHA’s findings, and apparently intends to do so.
“TPC is reviewing the citations and intends to appeal them,” a company spokesperson wrote in an email to the Beaumont Enterprise. “We strongly disagree with the characterization of some of the alleged violations as ‘willful.’ We anticipate future engagement with OSHA regarding these issues, and it would be inappropriate to comment further while our discussions are ongoing.”
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