Federal safety regulators announced a proposed $1.5 million fine recently against Sunoco Pipeline LP for failing to report a 2013 incident at a pipeline facility that resulted in a worker’s hospitalization. Alleging 15 violations of pipeline safety regulations, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a notice of probable violation and proposed compliance order, with a proposed $1.54 million civil penalty against Sunoco. The PHMSA found after an investigation that the pipeline operator failed to report a 2013 accident at a Wortham, Texas, facility that led to a minor oil spill and a serious worker injury requiring in-patient hospitalization, and had made a series of missteps leading up to the accident.
The notice of probable violation found that Sunoco Logistics Partners LP, which owns the West Texas Gulf Pipeline Co. facility in Wortham, didn’t follow written procedures, or verify employee qualifications. Neither did the company follow up on the accident after it happened. PHMSA said Sunoco failed to review employee activities after the accident to determine whether its procedures were adequate and did not analyze the cause of the accident, with the company providing an incomplete and inconclusive report to the regulator.
PHMSA said Sunoco should have learned from a 2009 accident that happened during similar maintenance work at a different Texas pipeline station, improving its procedures and work plans and using better training and qualification for employees performing the procedures. In the notice, PHMSA said: “Failure to identify the root cause of the 2009 accident allowed the recurrence of the same type of accident in 2013.”
According to the notice, Sunoco failed to verify operator qualifications for its welders, inspector and other contract personnel. One welder had no operator qualifications and another had let his qualifications lapse shortly before the accident. Employees were not evaluated after the accident before they resumed work, completing the welding just a day after the accident even though those same employees’ performance was believed to have contributed to the accident, according to the notice. And the employees and contract workers weren’t tested for drugs or alcohol after the accident.
Among other alleged violations are a failure to use a qualified and trained inspector to oversee maintenance activities at the Wortham station at the time of the accident and a failure to regularly audit its operations and maintenance manuals and ensure the facilities were following proper procedures. PHMSA said Sunoco failed to follow seven of its written procedures for the “hot work” performed at the Wortham station from fall 2012 through post-accident March 2013, “resulting in an unsafe condition and a serious injury to an individual performing hot work.” The company failed to follow nine aspects of its procedures for issuing work permits; a dozen of its provisions for a lockout program and eight written operator qualification program provisions, according to the notice. According to the notice, PHMSA’s investigation of the accident was prompted by a 2015 information request.
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