A national audit conducted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspectors of U.S. refineries has found 146 violations — many described as potentially life-threatening — after reviewing just 17 refineries in a dozen states. Even though only 17 of 81 targeted refineries in this country have been reviewed so far, those preliminary results have to be most disturbing. OSHA wants to expand the audit to include chemical plants. The nationwide audit was launched last year in response to decades of U.S. refinery deaths, including the massive explosion that killed 15 people and injured 170 others at BP’s Texas City refinery in March 2005. It has been reported that at least 29 people have died in U.S. refinery accidents from 2005 to 2008. The National Emphasis Program aims to cover 64 more refineries in the next two years. Inspectors have proposed $896,300 in penalties, according to OSHA.
When the refinery program was launched last June, OSHA leaders said the goal was to reduce preventable deaths at refineries, one of the nation’s most dangerous industries. OSHA says 52 employees have died in the past 15 years. Yet OSHA’s own data undercounts refinery deaths because OSHA and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics don’t classify deaths of contract workers as “refinery fatalities.” Instead, such deaths typically get counted as construction — or even janitorial — accidents. That is obviously quite misleading. Any death at the refinery, regardless of the victim’s employment status, should be included in any list of fatalities.
Despite the widespread problems, about 60 refineries are exempt from the ongoing audit because of their companies’ past participation in other OSHA programs. It should be noted that OSHA has few inspectors nationwide who specialize in refinery safety. In recent months, more than 300 inspectors have received crash courses of one to two weeks to assist with the National Emphasis Program. OSHA should be given the authority and resources needed to deal with the issue of safety at our nation’s refineries.
Source: Houston Chronicle
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