USW withdraws from refinery safety talks with API

Paula Dittrick
Senior Staff Writer

HOUSTON, Aug. 4 -- The United Steelworkers (USW) has withdrawn from talks on refinery safety with the American Petroleum Institute and the oil industry.

The talks were in response to recommendations from the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) following the deadly Mar. 23, 2005, explosion at BP America Inc.’s Texas City, Tex., refinery (OGJ, Sept. 8, 2008, p. 20).

USW and API were working to develop two American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards for process safety performance indicators and fatigue.

USW, API statements
Gary Beevers, USW international vice-president, said API excluded environmental and public interest organizations from committees developing the standards. He also said the process was weighted against refinery workers by giving one vote to each of the 22 oil companies and one vote to each of the three oil workers’ union representatives.

“After months of very little progress, we found the API and the industry did not understand the meaning of consensus,” Beevers said. “These oil companies try to get by with as few regulations and mandates as possible; we want a fair playing field.”

API issued a statement saying it regretted that USW representatives withdrew from what API called “the multistakeholder consensus-building process, currently in its final stages.”

The standards development work was conducted in accordance with procedures approved by the ANSI as directed by the CSB, API said.

“Unfortunately, the USW is attempting to undermine a process aimed at improving worker safety,” API said. “USW is trying to silence the voices of other stakeholders on the committee by making specific demands directly tied to the national oil bargaining strategy.”

API said the committees involved will continue their work to finalize the standards and expects new standards to be issued this year. 

Issues of disagreement
USW said a contentious issue involved public reporting of safety indicators. USW and refinery safety advocates want all safety failures to be reported publicly so refinery communities can be aware of problems.

Beevers said API and industry fought USW on the level of transparency. He said API and industry also refused to commit to reducing the number of overtime hours worked by individuals.

API said the industry does not want a specific numerical target regarding work shifts written into a standard because “no one-size-fits-all approach” will work for all refiners. API noted it maintains more than 100 safe operating standards and safe work practices, many of which are cited by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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