Federal investigators are still probing the site of an ExxonMobil fire that occurred on Wednesday and sent 12 contract workers at the refinery to the hospital with. Among the victims are fathers and husbands, and their families are seeking aid as they try to cover the costs of medical bills and lost wages.
The 12 contract workers who were injured in the blaze were all employees of Signature Industrial Services, Brock Services LLC, and KT Maintenance according to a news release that was issued by ExxonMobil on the incident. Seven of those workers were taken to the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston for treatment, and four of those patients are currently listed in critical condition. This means that they are at-risk to deteriorating health or death and need to be monitored and treated carefully. Another two of those patients are in serious condition, and another is listed as in fair condition.
An ExxonMobil spokeswoman told news stations that all the injured workers were at the same location working on a maintenance project at the refinery. The workers were in a processing unit which had been shut down for the maintenance. An international representative at the United Steelworkers union says that the processing unit was undergoing a planned routine maintenance turnaround.
In order to ensure that all machines and refinery tools are working correctly at the industrial site, ExxonMobil ensures that maintenance is performed on the processing unit frequently. The company intended to preserve the safety of workers by making sure that all the processing units were in a safe and sound condition. The United Steelworkers union says that there was nothing unlawful or dangerous about the planned turnaround, and the ExxonMobil refinery was actually honoring protocol by performing this task.
During this job, for an unknown reason, a small fire started in the processing unit at about 10:30 a.m. The Beaumont facility is not a common site for accidents, and documents show that the ExxonMobil location has actually had less injuries and accidents than the average refinery. The ExxonMobil station in Beaumont is even involved in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Voluntary Protection Programs which help to keep the companies accountable and tries to maintain illness and injury rates that are below the national average.
A United States health and safety specialist reports that there is an average of 41 refinery fires every year in America. Officials encourage refineries to perform frequent maintenance checks on their processing equipment in order to minimize the possibility of a fire or explosion. While refineries used to perform a maintenance turnaround on their processing units every three years, many oil and gas companies have not extended the time between checks to four or five years. ExxonMobil is concerned with the safety of workers and the performance of the refinery, so they make sure to conduct maintenance checks frequently.
While ExxonMobil is not certain how many contract workers were on-site at the time of the accident, reports claim that at times the refinery would have as many as 1,000 contract workers working alongside company employees. Local contracting companies supply specialty workers to the refinery on a regular basis to complete maintenance projects and other odd jobs. Because they are not actually employees at the refinery, the contract workers are not able to report worker's compensation claims to ExxonMobil, though the company is doing all that they can to assist the injured and motivate the contracting companies to provide the financial support necessary for a speedy recovery.
ExxonMobil spokespeople expressed their thanks to the citizens and authorities of Beaumont who came to the refinery or visited the hospital after the fire, and say that the company Is working with the contract companies to make sure that all injured workers receive the best medical attention available. The citizens of Beaumont are currently working to put together a benefit fund for the workers, and some of the victims have already received contact from ExxonMobil. Reports say that a bank account has been set up to help victims through Community Bank.
The refinery is already up and running again and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality monitored the air surrounding the facility to make sure that there were not hazardous omissions, but did not detect any alarming readings. While air pollution will be monitored at the site, the company is not fearful of any leaks that could affect the surrounding area. If hazardous materials leaked from the refinery plant, this would extend the amount of injuries suffered and locals may have tried to sue the refinery for the omissions.
ExxonMobil has already announced that the fire will not halt production at the refinery, and they will continue to process crude oil as scheduled. The Beaumont refinery processes around 350,000 of crude oil per day, and employees about 1,200 not including contract workers. ExxonMobil submitted a report to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality within 24 hours of the incident and the OSHA required a report within eight hours of the accident.
The OSHA does not have any records reporting safety violations for any of the companies that were involved in the fire. The OSHA says that they will work to complete an investigation about the fire within six months, but hope to complete it earlier than that. Once the cause of the fire has been determined, it will be easier for the workers to form their lawsuits or claims regarding the incident.
If you want more information on refinery fires and other industrial injuries, contact the industrial injury attorneys at Arnold & Itkin LLP today!