Five Leading Causes of Refinery Fires and Explosions

October 11, 2022

Throughout the recent years, the media has been riddled with reports of refinery fires and explosions. These refinery fires and explosions have severely injured and even killed workers, placed surrounding neighborhoods and residents at risk for chemical exposure, caused major structure fires, and even forced cities to evacuate until the area is deemed “safe” to return.

A highly volatile concoction of hazardous chemicals and negligent oversight can lead to lift-altering results. No matter the hazards or dangers that exist, refinery workers have every right to work in the safest working environments possible because there is not doubt that safety is the most important aspect in any workplace. Unfortunately, refinery explosions are repeatedly a result of numerous factors contained within this article, we expand on each of the leading causes of refinery fires and explosions in the U.S.

Violations of OSHA’s Safety Regulations

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires all refineries and plants in the U.S. to follow OSHA’s required safety protocols and procedures. These safety protocols and procedures include providing a safe working environment for all refinery workers. The vast majority of work accidents occur when safety regulations are not followed and refinery workers are put at risk. This is especially true when employers go out of their way to disregard safety protocols and minimize maintenance costs in order to increase production with the hopes of increasing profits. When this occurs, employers should be found negligent in their duties to provide a safe work environment if a refinery explosion occurs and workers are injured or killed as a result.

OSHA fines, issues citations, and penalizes employers that fail to provide their workers with anything less than a safe working environment. The owner of that company is responsible for making sure every measure is taken to guarantee the safety and health of their workers, as well as the residents of the surrounding communities.

OSHA’s general standards for employers include, but are not limited to:

  • Create, provide and maintain a safe workplace environment free of hazards by following all safety and health requirements;
  • Frequently, and consistently, check and monitor workplace conditions in order to confirm they are safe and hazard-free;
  • Make sure workers have and work with proper equipment and safety tools;
  • Conduct routine maintenance on, and replace as needed, all equipment and tools used by workers;
  • Thoroughly train workers in health and safety procedures, and ensure workers understand and appreciate the risks involved if they don’t adhere to those procedures by frequently reviewing those standards and procedures with them;
  • Warn all workers of any and all hazards in their work environment;
  • Notify OSHA within eight (8) hours of an accident, including if three or more workers are injured or if a fatality occurs.

Refinery Fires and Explosions

Refineries regularly work with and handle a variety of highly flammable materials and chemicals. Because of this they are infamous for catching fire and filling the sky with smoke in a wide radius around their location. When fires are ignited within a refinery, the chances are high that fire will start a chain reaction within the refinery, ultimately leading to an explosion. There are countless areas, within a refinery, that are under enormous amounts of pressure. If pockets of pressurized flammable materials or chemicals ignite, they could certainly explode causing devastating results throughout and around the refinery.

Failure to Properly Train and Instruct Employees

In the vast majority of refineries and industrial facilities today, workers are required to monitor, observe and work hands-on during manufacturing and production processes. Thus, it is imperative that employees are adequately trained on how to properly use all heavy machinery and safety equipment. However, many refinery workers are taught how to perform their jobs, “on the job,” and are not provided with thorough knowledge and expertise on the specific processes they are required to monitor or observe as part of their job duties. These inadequate and improper ways to “train” employees lead to errors, which can ultimately lead to life-altering or life-ending accidents or explosions within the workplace.

Failure to Properly Maintain Equipment

Refineries repeatedly use pressurized vessels, storage tanks, boilers, and various other equipment to store chemicals and other products of the refinery. Metal work is also an integral aspect of oil and gas processing, as many facilities use metal piping for transporting all liquid and gaseous products. Failure to properly maintain these things frequently leads to them becoming corroded, worn down or broken, which can lead to malfunctions, fires and explosions. Specifically regarding metal piping, if metal is worn down in an area that cannot be seen, it can weaken and corrode which can lead to safety valves on essential equipment to malfunction.

Refinery managers and supervisors should keep regular notes and records of maintenance performed on these items, as well as regularly schedule and perform routine maintenance of these items. However, that is not always the case, and refineries frequently fail to schedule and perform routine maintenance on these items because doing so would be time and money spent on maintenance and not time spent making a profit. As you can see, failure to do this puts all workers and bystanders in harm’s way.

Dirty Products and Chemical Impurities

Refineries process and use a wide array of chemicals and substances throughout their processing. Today, most refineries (not all) use high purity chemicals to carry out their processing. However, using chemicals containing impurities can jeopardize the entire manufacturing process and create defective products, which can cause chain reactions resulting in explosions within the refinery.

Top-Rated Refinery Injury Attorneys Can Help

The causes listed above are by no means the only ways which lead to or cause refinery fires and explosions, but they are the causes most often seen as a result of a refinery fire and explosion. The causes of refinery explosions are usually preventable, which makes these explosions all the more heartbreaking knowing that they could have been avoided. Frequently, when these unfortunate instances occur, an employer has been negligent and failed to provide its workers with a safe work environment and should be held liable. If you, or a loved one, has recently been injured or killed in a refinery fire or explosion, your best option is to get an experienced refinery injury attorney in your corner who can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call Morrow & Sheppard, LLP at (800) 489-2216 for a free consultation and initial case evaluation.

Get a Free Case Review by Calling Morrow & Sheppard Now.

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