OSHA Fines BP for 2005 Texas Refinery Explosion

 

The largest fine in the history of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was administered against oil behemoth BP for the 2005 Texas City, Texas refinery explosion that killed 15 workers and injured 170. OSHA fined BP $87 million for not correcting safety problems that were identified after the explosion. BP had agreed to pay a fine of $21.3 million six months after the explosion, as well as submit to an independent audit and take action to correct deficiencies.

OSHA officials say the fines were levied against BP because of the failure to comply with a 2005 agreement to fix the safety hazards in hundreds of instances. According to documents scheduled to be released today, there were 271 notifications issued to BP by OSHA in the four years since the workplace accident for failing to correct hazardous situations. There are also 439 “willful and egregious” industry-accepted safety control violations.

BP claims the corporation has spent nearly a billion dollars to upgrade production and fix safety issues at the refinery. While this may be a start, investigators point to the reasons the explosion happened in the first place. Employees had been working 12 hour shifts for nearly a month leaving them fatigued on antiquated equipment. Management was also cutting costs on safety and putting undue production pressure on their employees.

All these factors led to a broken gauge and overflowing flammable hydrocarbons from an octane processing tower. The tower lacked a flare system needed to burn off vapors. The vapors that escaped were then ignited by the backfire of a nearby truck. The resulting explosion not only killed and injured nearly 200 employees, but destroyed 13 employee trailers and damaged 13 others as far as 300 yards away.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis has previously blamed lax enforcement under the Bush administration for some problems and said repeatedly that “there is a new sheriff in town.” However, OSHA has said the fine is more in line with punishing a company with a long record for moving slowly on safety corrections than in going after the entire industry. It has also been noted that 23 workers have been killed on the job at the Texas City refinery over the last 30 years.

Since the 2005 explosion, BP has settled over 4000 civil claims it has paid from a $2.1 billion fund set aside to resolve claims. The company also pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Air Act and paid $50 million in criminal fines.