Steelworkers Ask Why PSM Standard Isn't Gospel
On Friday, the union and Chevron Philips Petroleum marked the 20th anniversary of a refinery explosion and fire in Pasadena, Texas, that killed 23 workers and injured 314 others. International VP Gary Beevers said not enough has been done since then to ensure safety at refineries.
The United Steelworkers union and Chevron Philips Petroleum held a ceremony Friday to remember an explosion and fire at the Phillips petroleum refinery in Pasadena, Texas, 20 years earlier, which caused 23 deaths and 314 injuries. Damage to the refinery amounted to $700 million, the union said. "There are many for whom that day will live forever, vivid in their nightmares and waking hours," said USW International Vice President Gary Beevers. "Many were affected as they lost a family member or friend that day, while many others who work at other petrochemical facilities thought, 'That could have been us.' "
In the intervening 20 years, the union said, fatal accidents in 1999 and 2000 in the K-Resin section of the facility have occurred, and in 1997 and 1999, the Tosco Avon refinery in California experienced fatal accidents. At Arco in Channelview, Texas, in 1990, 17 workers died, and six workers died in an explosion and fire at the Equilon refinery in Anacortes, Wash. And the BP refinery in Texas City, Texas, had multiple fatalities in an explosion in March 2005. "Fires and equipment failures are an ongoing event, and in most cases the end result is not fatal, but the loss and damage to equipment is huge, not to mention the affect it has on people who are involved in these events," according to USW.
OSHA's Process Safety Management standard, which became effective in May 1992, has not produced the improvement the union expected, Beevers said, noting OSHA's recent National Emphasis Program for oil refineries revealed numerous violations. "The question is how many more people have to die before the benefits of following the regulations of the PSM standard are understood," said Beevers. "As we look back 20 years at the failures and fatalities at the Phillips plant, let's try to look ahead to a day where our members hold their employers accountable for following the PSM standard. Let's also look toward a day where employers are anxious to fully implement all elements of the standard because it makes their facilities safer."
"In 20 years, we have not done what needs to be done to make this a reality," he said. "As we remember those who lost their lives at Phillips, let's make our actions speak to the reality of safer workplaces." The union represents 850,000 workers in North America, including 30,000 who work in the petroleum industry.