Steelworkers See Pattern in Oil Industry Incidents
At a conference preparing for national oil bargaining in 2012, union Vice President Gary Beevers described a mentality of running equipment until it fails and delaying turnarounds.
Saying the oil industry's "run to failure" mentality is growing worse, United Steelworkers Vice President Gary Beevers said the industry needs to return to shorter periods between turnarounds, the times when refineries shut down for maintenance. Beevers also said the union will fight to include enforceable health and safety language in the next national oil contract it negotiates in 2012. He spoke at the union's 2010 National Oil Bargaining Conference. Held Sept. 14-16 at a Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport hotel, it brought together delegates from union locals with members working in the industry.
"We can't accept the attitude that upsets are bound to happen because of the hazardous nature of the refining process," said Beevers, who leads the union's oil sector. "If refiners paid greater attention to safety instead of production and reinvested more of their profits into their infrastructure instead of buying back their stock, there would be fewer preventable accidents."
The new chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, Rafael Moure-Eraso, also spoke at the conference. "We see a growing crisis of safety in the oil sector," he said, referring to Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion and Gulf of Mexico oil spill, as well as explosions and fires at onshore production, processing, and refining facilities. Moure-Eraso said operators have told him turnarounds that usually occur every two to three years are now happening every four to five years. Companies should strengthen their mechanical integrity programs to find problems before releases occur, he said.
"The industry says it's managing the risk, but in most instances it's based too narrowly on an individual plant's history, and that creates a false perspective of the risk involved," said Kim Nibarger, a health and safety specialist with the union's health, safety and environment department. "It's 'Throw a patch on the line and we'll fix it during the next turnaround,' " Nibarger said.
The union has 850,000 members in North America who work metals, rubber, chemicals, paper, oil refining, atomic energy, and the service sector. Among them are 30,000 members working in the oil industry.