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Causes of Refinery Explosions
Workplace Accidents

Causes of Refinery Explosions

Throughout 2021, the news has been full of reports of refinery explosions around the world. From the United States to Indonesia, Kuwait to Iran, and even Canada, refineries have experienced explosions that have injured workers, caused serious structural fires, placed nearby residents at risk of exposure to chemicals, and forced cities to evacuate at a moment’s notice. The refineries and chemical plants along the Gulf Coast lead our country in oil production and chemical manufacturing. In 2020, Texas accounted for 43 percent of all U.S. crude oil production.

A hazardous combination of volatile chemicals and complicated job responsibilities can lead to deadly consequences. Industrial workers have every right to be safe in their working environment, no matter what hazards or dangers exist, so why do so many refineries and industrial plants experience explosions and other serious workplace accidents that seriously injure or kill workers?

The following are the most common causes of refinery and plant explosions:

Fires

With the use of so many flammable materials, refineries are notorious for catching fire and sending smoke thousands of feet into the air. These fires can start chain reactions across the refinery that cause explosions. There are many areas of a refinery or plant that are under great amounts of pressure. If those pockets of gas or oil catch fire while under great pressure, they could easily explode, sending shrapnel, flames, and smoke across the entire worksite.

Violations of OSHA Safety Regulations

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)requires all refineries and plants in the United States to follow its required safety protocols and procedures. This includes providing a safe working environment for all workers. Work accidents occur when safety regulations are not adhered to and workers are put at risk. Some employers may purposely avoid following safety protocols to increase production speed and/or keep costs low. When this occurs, the employer may be found negligent in its duties to provide a safe work environment if a refinery explosion occurs and workers are injured or killed as a result.

Use of Impure or “Dirty” Chemicals

Most modern refineries and plants utilize certain chemicals of high purity to complete their processing. If impurities in the chemicals remain, they can contaminate the entire manufacturing process and lead to defective products. These impurities can cause a chain reaction leading to refinery explosions.

Lack of Equipment Maintenance

Refineries often use boilers, storage tanks, and pressurized vessels to store their products. If these items are not properly maintained and end up corroded or broken, they can malfunction and start a fire or explode depending on the circumstances. Many refinery managers do not regularly schedule maintenance for their equipment as it would take time away from making products. Doing this, while keeping production going and profits higher, puts all workers at risk.

Unseen Corrosion

Metalwork is often required as part of oil and gas processing, as many refineries use metal pipes to transport their oil and gas or other products. If metal is worn down in an area that cannot be seen, it can begin to weaken and corrode. This may cause safety valves on essential pieces of equipment to malfunction and explosions to occur.

Failure to Properly Train Employees

Even as refineries and plants are quickly switching to more modern techniques, including robotic work systems and computer-controlled processes, humans are still required to monitor each portion of the manufacturing process. This means training employees properly on the use of all heavy machinery and safety equipment. Many refinery workers are trained “on the job” and do not necessarily have an in-depth knowledge of the processes they are monitoring or taking part in. When a worker is not trained properly on a series of tasks or in how to use a specific piece of machinery, errors can be made leading to serious refinery accidents or explosions.

Each of the above circumstances is typically preventable when negligence is not involved, making plant explosions that injure or kill employees, contractors, or even nearby residents avoidable and tragic.

Industrial Workplace Accident Attorneys

Most causes of refinery explosions are preventable, making it even more devastating when they occur. After an explosion, once workers are treated for their injuries and the fires have been put out, it can be difficult to determine what the direct cause of the explosion was. It may take months to even years to determine the root cause, which is incredibly frustrating for those who have been injured or for the families of loved ones who were killed as a result. Oftentimes, an employer has been negligent in its duties to provide a safe work environment and should be held accountable for its lack of care.

All workers have the right to work and return home safely. It’s an unfortunate reality that companies continue to fail employees by ignoring safety guidelines and state and federal laws designed to protect workers. If you or a loved one was injured in an industrial accident in Texas, contact Corpus Christi personal injury trial attorney John Flood today. Call our office at (361) 654-8877 for a free initial case evaluation.