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March 17, 2023
BP faces $156K OSHA fine in refinery explosion

On March 16, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced citations and penalties following an investigation into two workers’ fatal burns at an Oregon, Ohio, refinery’s crude unit operated by BP Products North America Inc.

The agency cited BP with 10 serious violations and one other-than-serious violation and proposed penalties totaling $156,250.

As workers attempted to correct rising liquid levels in a fuel gas mix drum, a flammable vapor cloud formed, ignited, and then triggered an explosion on September 20, 2022, resulting in the workers’ fatal burns.

Agency inspectors concluded that BP violated process safety management (PSM) regulations for highly hazardous chemicals and failed to adequately train its workers. Inspectors determined that BP failed to train operators to identify the presence of naphtha during an upset condition. The company also failed to develop and implement safe work practices for responding to such conditions, according to the agency.

Inspectors determined that 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.

OSHA cited BP 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.

“Federal safety standards require BP Products North America Inc. to develop companywide process safety and response procedures that address worst-case scenarios,” Todd Jensen, OSHA’s Toledo, Ohio, area director, said in an agency statement. “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.”

BP Products North America Inc., based in Houston, is a subsidiary of BP of the United Kingdom, according to OSHA.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) also has an open investigation into the fire and explosion at the Oregon, Ohio, refinery.

An update to OSHA’s PSM standard is one of the six economically significant rulemakings at the agency. OSHA is analyzing comments from an October 21, 2022, stakeholder meeting about the rulemaking meant to prevent major chemical accidents.

OSHA whistleblower probe finds Dallas church acted illegally

OSHA has ordered a Dallas, Texas, church to reinstate a nutrition specialist at a childcare facility who was fired after raising concerns about rodents, spiders, and insects in the facility’s cafeteria, kitchen, and other areas.

New Mount Zion Baptist Church, the operator of the childcare center, wrongfully fired the employee, according to OSHA. The agency has ordered the employer to reinstate the nutrition specialist and to pay them back wages, interest, and compensatory damages.

OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program in Dallas determined that the church violated the Food Safety Modernization Act by illegally terminating the employee in retaliation for exercising the employee’s protected rights to report unsafe and unhealthy conditions.

OSHA’s whistleblower protection authority was first established in the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to protect workers who lodge safety or health complaints or who cooperate in investigations of workplace safety and health violations. The agency is now responsible for investigating whistleblower complaints under more than 20 federal statutes, ranging from aviation, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, food, motor vehicle, nuclear, and pipeline safety to anti-money laundering, criminal antitrust, environmental, financial reform, health insurance reform, maritime, public transportation, railroad, securities, and tax laws.

“New Mount Zion Baptist Church’s actions toward the employee are unacceptable and deeply concerning,” Eric S. Harbin OSHA’s Dallas regional administrator, said in an agency statement. “The existence of rodents and insects in food preparation and serving areas poses a health hazard. The employee had the legal right to express apprehensions about the unhygienic surroundings and should not have been fired for doing so.”

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