OSHA to train more refinery inspectors

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration expects to have 280 staff members trained to conduct process safety management inspections by August, Assistant Labor Secretary for OSHA Edwin L. Foulke Jr. announced.

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, Mar. 23 -- The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration expects to have 280 staff members trained to conduct process safety management inspections by August, Assistant Labor Secretary for OSHA Edwin L. Foulke Jr. announced.

So far, the federal workplace safety agency has more than 160 employees who are qualified to conduct the inspections, Foulke said on Mar. 22. Adding inspectors will ensure that every refinery will be inspected under OSHA's new national emphasis program, he said.

His announcement came the same day that witnesses and members of the House Education and Labor Committee charged that OSHA failed to adequately inspect BP America Inc.'s Texas City, Tex., refinery for years prior to a Mar. 23, 2005, fire and explosion which killed 15 workers and injured 180 there.

In a final report on the accident that it issued on Mar. 20, the US Chemical Safety Board said that OSHA conducted only one planned PSM inspection at the refinery in 1998 despite numerous fatal incidents occurring there from 1985 to 2005. Other unplanned inspections, which typically are narrower in scope and shorter in duration than planned inspections, occurred in response to accidents, complaints, or referrals, CSB said.

It said that OSHA levied $270,255 in fines and collected a net $77,860 during the 20-year period in which 10 people were killed at the refinery preceding the accident. The agency fined BP more than $21 million on Sept. 22, 2005, for what CSB termed "more than 300 egregious and willful violations" at the plant. It was the largest penalty in OSHA's history.

CSB recommendations
CSB's final report on the Texas City fire and explosion called on OSHA to identify refineries and chemical plants at the greatest risk of a catastrophic accident and to conduct comprehensive inspections of those facilities. It also recommended that the US Department of Labor division hire or develop new, specialized inspectors and expand the PSM training curriculum at its national training institute.

"The refinery industry has been a major focus for OSHA, and the CSB report confirms we are on the right track," Foulke said on Mar. 22. "OSHA already has implemented two of CSB's three major recommendations and increased our inspections in the refining industry." The agency and its state partners conducted more than 100 refinery inspections during the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2006, and already has conducted 50 more in fiscal 2007, he said.

Meanwhile, Texas state Sen. Mario V. Gallegos Jr. (R-Houston) and Rep. Craig Eiland (R-Austin) and representatives from the United Steelworkers Union and the AFL-CIO were scheduled to join Eva Rowe, whose parents died in the Texas City refinery's fire and explosion, and her attorney, Brent W. Coon, at a press conference in Austin on the Texas capitol's south steps on Mar. 23 to mark the accident's second anniversary and announce legislation which would:

-- Ban trailers and other temporary buildings from refineries and chemical plants in the state.

-- End the use of blowdown drums and other open-air release systems in Texas refineries.

-- Involve state agencies directly in Texas petrochemical plant inspections.

-- Ensure all employees and contract workers at Texas refineries and chemical plants are properly trained by requiring meaningful competency testing and certification for everyone working there.

Contact Nick Snow at nsnow@cox.net.

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