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Fines in Fatal Blast Contested

Friday, January 24, 2014

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A Louisiana chemical plant is challenging fines issued in an explosion that killed two workers and injured 80 last summer, authorities said.

Williams Olefins' Geismar, LA, plant exploded June 13, 2013. Six months later, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced that it was citing the company for six process safety management standard violations, one willful and five serious, for a total of $99,000 in proposed penalties.

The company has contested the citations before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, OSHA spokesperson Juan Rodriguez confirmed Thursday (Jan. 23).

Geismar explosion
Photos: CSB

OSHA cited Williams Olefins for six process safety management standard violations after its Geismar, LA, chemical plant exploded in June, killing two workers. The company has contested the citations.

Process safety management encompasses a detailed set of requirements and procedures for employers to follow to address hazards associated with processes and equipment that use large amounts of hazardous chemicals, OSHA said. In this case, that chemical was propylene.

Two Deaths, Ongoing Investigation

Williams Olefins is a subsidiary of Williams Partners LP, headquartered in Tulsa, OK. The company has about 4,700 employees corporatewide, according to OSHA.

The Geismar, LA, plant specializes in the production of natural gas, ethylene and propylene and employs about 127 workers.

Zachary Green, 29, died in the explosion. He was an operator who started working with the company in October 2012. The second victim, 47-year-old Scott Thrower, died at the hospital the next day.

"Williams Olefins violated safety and health standards which, when followed, can protect workers from hazardous chemicals," said Dorinda Folse, OSHA's area director in Baton Rouge.

"It is the employer's responsibility to find and fix workplace safety violations and to ensure the safety of its workers. Failing to do so cost two workers their lives."

Tome Droege, a Williams Olefins spokesperson, told The Advocate, "Although a notice of contest has been filed, we anticipate future discussions with OSHA to finalize this matter. He added that the company had had discussions with OSHA before the notice was filed.

'Catastrophic Failure'

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is still investigating. CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso met with the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on June 27, 2013, telling them that "there was a catastrophic failure involving a heat exchanger and associated piping which broke loose from a distillation tower."

Williams Olefins plant

The CSB is still investigating the explosion but has said that it stemmed from a heat exchanger failure and piping that broke loose from a distillation tower.

Williams Olefins confirmed in December that it had received the citations and was carefully reviewing OSHA's analysis and findings.

"Williams cooperated in a full and transparent manner to support OSHA's investigation, and we are in the process of reviewing the analysis," said John Dearborn, senior VP of NGL and Petchem Services.

The Violations

The willful violation, OSHA's highest level of infraction, was cited for failing to develop clear, written procedures for how to change and put idle pressure vessels into service. That violation carries a $70,000 proposed penalty. A willful violation is one OSHA says is committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.

The five serious violations allege:

  • Inadvertently mixing hot quench water with propylene ($7,000);
  • Failing to provide appropriate pressure protection for a pressure vessel ($7,000);
  • Failing to complete a process hazard analysis to address the opening of hot quench water flow into a pressure vessel ($7,000);
  • Failing to properly document workplace training ($3,000); and
  • Failing to promptly correct deficiencies related to process safety management discovered by an internal compliance audit team ($5,000).

According to OSHA, serious violations occur when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard the employer knew or should have known about.

   

Tagged categories: Accidents; Explosions; Fatalities; OSHA; Petrochemical Plants; Pipelines; Polypropylene; U.S. Chemical Safety Board

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