A 25-year-old scaffold builder working as a contractor for Excel Modular Scaffold has died after suffering a severe electrocution accident at the Galveston Bay Refinery owned by Marathon Petroleum in Texas City. The incident occurred on Tuesday, February 28 at approximately 4:45 PM. The cause of the electric shock is unknown at this time. The man was working on scaffolding at a resid hydrotreater, one of several units being overhauled since January. Anonymous witnesses say the scaffold builder made contact with an electrical conduit while doing his job, which killed him.
OSHA has launched an investigation into the incident, and Marathon Petroleum has issued a statement expressing their condolences to the family and friends of the deceased individual. Marathon also emphasized their commitment to safety and stated that an investigation would be conducted to determine the cause of the accident.
The Threat of Electrocution in Refineries
The recent electrocution accident at Marathon Petroleum's Galveston Bay Refinery highlights the ongoing threat of electrocution in industrial work. Refineries use large amounts of electricity to power their equipment, making them particularly vulnerable to electrical hazards. Workers in refineries are at risk of electrocution from exposed electrical wires, malfunctioning equipment, and poor electrical maintenance.
OSHA data shows that there were 1,201 electricity-related workplace fatalities between 2011 and 2021; BLS data from the same period is even worse, at 1,653 fatalities. According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), the second-most likely workers to suffer electrocution are construction workers; in fact, the number of construction workers who die from electrocution are nearly equal to all other non-electrical workers combined.
The most tragic part: “unexpected contact with energy” is the most common cause of fatality after “overhead power line contact,” suggesting that most workers who suffer electrical injuries aren’t even aware that they’re in danger of electrocution at all.
Employers Must Mitigate the Risk of Electrocution
To prevent electrocution accidents in refineries, employers must ensure that their electrical equipment is well-maintained and up-to-date. They must also provide workers with proper training on electrical safety procedures and provide them with personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and hard hats. Regular safety inspections and hazard assessments should also be conducted to identify potential electrical hazards and address them before they cause harm.
Such measures were (or should have been) part of the plans for the hydrotreater overhaul.
The electrocution accident at Marathon Petroleum's Galveston Bay Refinery shows us the tragic stakes of adequate electrical safety in refineries. Our hearts go out to the family of the young man, and we hope OSHA uncovers answers about what happened soon.