Plants and refineries understandably delayed their turnarounds in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic; however, we may be paying the price for that delay now. Turnarounds are planned shutdown periods that allow engineers and technicians the ability to maintain and revitalize specific areas of the plant. They’re often planned years in advance. Plant owners try to schedule as few turnaround periods as possible due to expense; the average cost of a singe hour of downtime is about $250,000, and turnarounds can last for days.
Turnarounds are also dangerous. An oil and gas executive once estimated that shutdown and startup periods make up 5% of operation time, but 40% of accidents occur in those periods. Starting up or shutting down a plant is the most hazardous situation a worker can face. So when coronavirus upended countless turnaround schedules, it made life a lot more risky for the average plant worker or contractor.
The Backlog May Stretch in 2022
The problem with the turnaround delay is that it could cause a years-long backlog for refineries all over the country—delays that plants simply cannot afford. In 2019, a refinery in Philadelphia exploded, releasing hundreds of tons of hydrofluoric acid. The cause? An elbow joint that had been in operation since 1973. The metal of the joint eroded down to the thickness of a credit card before it exploded.
Plant owners already push their turnaround dates as far as they can; with a six-month or year-long delay on those dates, there’s no telling what kind of danger refinery workers will face. Some plants may need to wait into 2023 before their equipment can be maintained, even as oil and gas production rises and turnaround contractors shrink in number.
Investigating Westlake Chemical for a Turnaround Accident
Just a few weeks ago, the Westlake Chemical refinery in Sulphur, LA exploded during a turnaround. The incident left one worker with burns over 50% of his body, and dozens more were injured or traumatized while fleeing the fire. Our firm is investigating Westlake and other employers on behalf of 14 survivors.
Our firm has represented dozens of workers injured due to poor shutdown or startup practices, aging equipment, and corporate neglect. We’ve won record-shattering results against the largest players in the industry because we’re not afraid of a fight, and our clients have been able to rebuild their lives because of it.
If you were injured as a result of a turnaround accident, speak with Arnold & Itkin LLP as soon as possible. Let’s discuss your options in a free case consultation.