Feds say BP violated safety rules that led to fatal fire

OSHA faults BP in fatal fire
Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 10:44 AM EDT|Updated: Mar. 16, 2023 at 11:39 AM EDT
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OREGON, Ohio (WTVG) - BP could face more than $150,000 in fines as a result of the September 2022 fire that killed two of their workers at the bp-Husky oil refinery.

On Thursday, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited BP Products North America Inc. for failing to implement shutdown procedures for the equipment when requested by the operators responding to the naphtha release and for not clearly defining conditions for emergency shutdown of the crude tower.

Brothers Ben and Max Morrissey lost their lives when workers attempted to correct rising liquid levels in the fuel gas mix drum. A flammable vapor cloud formed, ignited and then triggered an explosion, causing the deadly burns.

Inspectors determined naphtha – a flammable liquid hydrocarbon mixture – was released when flow control valves were opened in an attempt to regulate an overfill occurring in upstream process equipment. The opened valve allowed the flammable liquid to enter the refinery’s fuel gas system.

“Federal safety standards require BP Products North America Inc. to develop companywide process safety and response procedures that address worst-case scenarios,” explained OSHA Area Director Todd Jensen in Toledo, Ohio. “This tragedy is a reminder of why employers must consistently reevaluate those procedures for accuracy and ensure workers are properly trained to respond in dangerous situations.”

OSHA proposed $156,250 in penalties, an amount set by federal statutes, and cited the company for 10 serious violations, and one other-than-serious violation of process safety management procedures. Specifically, the agency found BP Products failed to:

  • Train operators to identify the presence of naphtha during an upset condition.
  • Develop and implement safe work practices for responding to upset conditions.
  • Document design for pressure safety valves, including for an overpressure scenario.
  • Address hazards of overfilling process vessels, and safeguards needed to protect against an overfill.
  • Evaluate for engineering or administrative controls for draining process equipment during upset conditions.
  • Address human factors with the operation of the inside control board screen loading delays.
  • Ensure process hazard assessments were accurate with respect to level indicator safeguards.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

BP America Inc released the following statement.

“bp is committed to safe and reliable operations at all of our facilities. We have been actively cooperating with OSHA as it investigates the Toledo incident and we will review the citations and continue our discussions with the agency,” a spokesperson for BP said in a statement.

The United Steelworkers Union released the following statement.

The USW appreciates OSHA’s work in investigating the deaths of two of our union brothers at the BP-Husky Toledo refinery. While no penalties or fines could ever make up for the lost human lives, we welcome their findings and their efforts to hold BP accountable. Moving forward, our union remains committed to working with OSHA and Cenovus, the facilities new owner, to ensure this type of tragedy never happens again.”

The refinery’s new owner, Cenovus, released the following statement.

This report contains initial findings and when OSHA releases its final report, Cenovus Toledo Refinery is committed to meeting the recommendations set out. The safety of our people and the community is our top priority. As bp was the operator and employer at the time of the incident, any comment on today’s report should come from them,” Cenovus said in a statement.

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