Houston is known as the “Energy Capital of the World” and is home to more than 5,000 energy-related companies and 10 refineries. These Houston refineries use toxic chemicals, high temperatures, and tremendous pressure to process 2.6 million barrels of crude oil each day. With the volume of oil produced each day being produced under these dangerous conditions, it comes as no surprise that catastrophic refinery explosions occur on a regular basis. These Houston refinery explosions can be devastating to both industrial workers and Houston area residents who have to deal with the fallout of an explosion. These explosions are typically preventable had the correct safety precautions been taken. All too often, refinery owners and managers fail to take the necessary steps to protect their workers, forcing them to work with outdated, worn-out equipment and in unsafe work environments that fail to abide by legally mandated safety measures.
Houston refinery explosions are known to be deadly incidents that can leave a company’s workers fearful of returning to work. One of the most infamous refinery explosions, the 2005 Texas City BP refinery explosion, killed 15 workers and injured 180 more. A geyser of 7,600 gallons of toxic, highly flammable chemicals was released accidentally at the BP refinery on March 23, 2005. One spark from a passing truck triggered a chain of explosions that destroyed nearby temporary office trailers, killing 15 workers inside. Other workers in the area suffered severe burns, were maimed by debris, or otherwise injured by the heat and force of the blast. The cause of this explosion? Corroded pipes that released the flammable gas into the air. In its two-year investigation, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) found this disaster was set in motion by decisions made long before the explosion occurred. The CSB determined the refinery needed to upgrade and/or replace outdated technology and equipment as well as develop methods for identifying safety indicators. After years of cost-cutting, a lack of worker training, and serious deficiencies in the safety culture of the refinery, the entire area was left vulnerable to catastrophe.
Even with the CSB’s reported findings, Houston area refineries are still experiencing devastating explosions and fires that leave their workforce injured or killed. On July 31, 2019, there was an explosion and fire at an ExxonMobil oil refinery in Baytown that left 66 people seeking medical treatment for injuries. The facility processes light hydrocarbons – including propane and propylene – which are used to make plastic and industrial products. Many of those injured in this blast and subsequent fire suffered burns, and the explosion could have easily been deadly. This was not the only refinery fire in 2019 that injured workers and sent toxic pollutants into the air. On March 16, 2019, a fire erupted at the same refinery complex in Baytown that – even after being extinguished – sent pollutants into the air for eight days. In April of 2019, a worked died at a refinery operated by KMCO LLC near Crosby when a tank holding a flammable chemical caught fire. These Houston refinery explosions were all determined to have been preventable; however, the longevity and frequency of these incidents shows safety is still not a priority for energy industry employers.
There are many common causes of Houston refinery explosions. Unfortunately, they can typically be traced to company management refusing to invest in maintenance or replacement of defective or worn-out equipment. Refinery owners, operators, and employers are required by law to inspect their machinery, storage tanks, and other equipment regularly. Including that issue, here are some of the most common causes of Houston refinery explosions:
Failure to Conduct Routine Inspection and Maintenance
When refinery management fails to inspect and perform routine maintenance on a facility, workers are forced to perform their job duties in an unsafe work environment. Even with protective equipment, workers may have no way to protect themselves from a malfunctioning piece of heavy machinery. Many owners, operators, and employers are reluctant to perform the required inspections of their facilities due to the high cost of maintenance and repairs. The price is then paid by refinery accident victims who are then injured or killed due to their employer’s negligence.
Lack of Dangerous Chemical Oversight
When dangerous chemicals are misused or are used when impure, deadly combustion can occur that can cause in a refinery explosion. Employees need proper job training to ensure they are using chemicals properly, including natural gas, benzene, and highly flammable liquids. This training can help ensure all chemicals and gases are stored in a secure manner and reduce the risk of chemicals violently interacting with each other.
Lack of Appropriate Protective Equipment
Employers are required to provide safety equipment for workers that can protect them from direct harm while performing their job duties. Safety equipment can include eye protection, gloves, hardhats, fire-resistant clothing, safeguarding equipment, and more. There must be functioning fire suppression systems throughout the refinery as well as an alert system in case of gas or chemical leaks that give adequate warning to workers when danger is imminent. Without safety equipment, workers are at a high risk of sustaining life-threatening injuries or suffering death in refinery accidents.
Failure to Properly Train Employees
Working at a refinery requires focus, skill, and knowledge. When employees lack appropriate training regarding safety, they will be unable to carry out their job duties safely. In such a volatile industry that works with hazardous materials, safety is critical to avoiding catastrophic workplace accidents. Safety signage, safety training, and job-specific training are all necessary to keep a refinery safe.
Houston Refinery Explosion Attorneys
When a refinery explosion occurs, the injuries can be devastating. Even minor injuries can leave a worker scarred for life. Some of the most common refinery explosion injuries include severe burns and lacerations, amputations, chemical and electrical burns, broken limbs, disfiguration, internal organ damage, exposure to toxic chemicals, permanent disability, and wrongful death. These types of injuries require extensive medical treatment that can be expensive and require the worker to stay home for extended periods of time while missing work – and maybe even prevent them from ever returning to work.
If you were injured or a loved one was killed in a Houston, Texas refinery explosion or other workplace accident, contact J.D. Silva & Associates at 281-971-3200 as soon as possible. We can evaluate your potential case and direct the appropriate course of action. We know how oil companies approach these cases and have the experience and resources to fight for you every step of the way. Ultimately, our team wants to make sure you get the help you deserve during this difficult time.