The BP-Husky Refining LLC refinery in suburban Toledo was slapped with $3 million in proposed penalties yesterday after federal inspectors found problems similar to those that contributed to a deadly explosion at a refinery in Texas in 2005.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor, cited the refinery for 42 willful violations and 20 serious violations of federal safety laws. Willful violations are the workplace safety agency's most serious category of offense.
“OSHA has found that BP often ignored or severely delayed fixing known hazards in its refineries,” Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said in a written statement. “There is no excuse for taking chances with people's lives. BP must fix the hazards now.”
Refinery spokesman Mary Caprella said company officials would not comment until reviewing the citations. She added, however, “We take our responsibility for safety seriously at all of our operations.
“We are disappointed that OSHA has chosen to characterize the majority of the audit findings as willful,” she added, but pledged to cooperate with the agency to fix problems.
The refinery in Oregon is jointly owned by BP Products North America Inc. and Canada-based Husky Energy Inc.
The 107-page citation issued yesterday named both the refinery and BP individually.
BP was the owner of a refinery in Texas City, Texas, that exploded in 2005, killing 15 people and injuring 170 others.
The incident sparked an OSHA crackdown on BP and refineries overall. Last fall, the agency slapped British-owned BP with $87 million in fines for failing to fully fix problems identified at the time of the explosion and fire.
After the 2005 incident, OSHA separately fined the Toledo operation $2.4 million in 2006 for safety problems similar to those in Texas.
In 2007, an independent study led by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker found that the suburban Toledo facility had the second least effective safety management program behind Texas City among BP's U.S. plants.
That year, refinery officials in Toledo pledged to fix problems as part of an agreement with OSHA.
On Sept. 10, federal inspectors returned to the refinery, which employs 600 people, to recheck the situation.
While identifying no violations of the 2007 agreement, they found new problems.
“The inspection revealed that workers were exposed to serious injury and death in the event of a release of flammable and explosive materials in the refinery because of numerous conditions constituting violations of OSHA's process safety management standards,” agency officials said in a written statement.
The citation that grew out of the inspection makes no direct reference to the Texas incident.
But, in a memo to the U.S. Labor Department secretary, OSHA officials said inspectors found serious problems with the refinery's pressure-relief system, which they described as “the last line of defense when a process starts to go out of control.”
“If a pressure-relief system fails, flammable and explosive hydrocarbons may be released in work areas similar to the conditions that existed shortly before the massive 2005” Texas explosion, continues the memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Blade.
Also, the memo said refinery officials failed to move employees from nine buildings most at risk in an explosion.
Additionally, inspectors said the refinery failed to investigate or inadequately investigated incidents that “resulted in, or could reasonably have resulted in, a catastrophic release of a highly hazardous chemical in the workplace.” They cited 10 separate instances dating back to 2003.
Representatives of the United Steelworkers, which represents refinery employees, couldn't be reached for comment.
Other refineries in northwest Ohio have faced OSHA fines in the past year. Sunoco Inc., in East Toledo, was hit with a $147,000 penalty last year after a maintenance worker suffered minor injuries in a workplace mishap.
Husky Energy, Lima, was fined $61,000 last year. In another dispute, the Labor Department said last week it ordered that facility to pay $969,000 in back wages to more than 170 workers over failure to pay overtime.
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