Explosion Causes Why Plant and Refinery Explosions Happen

Common Causes of Texas Refinery Explosions

At Arnold & Itkin, we have seen firsthand the devastation caused by refinery accidents both in Texas and across the nation. We helped to represent those injured in the 2005 BP Texas City explosion, as well as dozens of workers injured by the 2013 chemical plant explosion in Geismar, LA. In cases such as these, we have discovered that there is no one common cause of refinery accidents. Below, we explain common causes of Texas refinery explosions.

1) Old or Malfunctioning Equipment

Refineries rely on many different types of equipment to accomplish their goals. Unfortunately, this equipment is often old, outdated, or poorly maintained. When employers fail to create a safe environment, employees suffer.

According to Kurt Arnold, many plants have not been updated for half a century, leaving extremely old technology still in place. While employers may view this as a shortcut, it endangers the lives of workers.

Take, for example, the Williams Olefins plant explosion that occurred in Geismar, LA on June 13, 2013. All signs point to the explosion being caused by a "catastrophic failure" of the plant's heat exchanger.

In another case, OSHA investigated Connecticut's Kleen Energy Systems plant after an explosion and found more than 400 safety violations. Both of these explosions show us that while some accidents are unavoidable, many could have been prevented through properly maintaining and updating refinery equipment.

2) Poor Training of Refinery Employees

Due to the high risk associated with refinery jobs, it is imperative that all employees of plants and refineries are put through a comprehensive training program. Employee training should include education on how to properly operate machinery, handle and store volatile chemicals, as well as how to avoid the risk of combustion.

Per the Industrial Skills Training Network, employees should be trained on:

  • Safe work habits and safety guidelines
  • Chemical safety hazards
  • Basic emergency response training
  • Preparing hazardous materials for transport
  • Working safely with electrical equipment
  • Properly reading warning signs and labels

Unfortunately, not all employers take the time to ensure that refinery workers are properly trained—leaving them to suffer the consequences. If, for example, a worker is not trained on how to reduce the risk of working with hazardous materials, they could cause an accident that training could have easily avoided.

3) Unseen Corrosion

Over time, metal is gradually worn down as it reacts to the surrounding environment.

While this is a common reaction, it can become deadly if it is not noticed and fixed. In some cases, corrosion can be seen by discoloration, but that is not always the case. In fact, unseen corrosion can be so subtle that even highly trained equipment inspectors may miss it, or it may be hidden in a part of a machine that is not easily accessible. When corrosion goes unseen, it will gradually worsen, causing the machine to become increasingly dangerous to use. If the corrosion goes unseen long enough, it can eventually lead to a deadly explosion or a fire.

4) Poor Facility Maintenance

One of the most important steps employers can take to protect workers is to properly maintain their facilities. Due to the hazardous material and dangerous equipment on location, refinery accidents are bound to happen if proper facility maintenance is not undertaken. Due to the countless refinery explosions over the years, facility maintenance has become a subject of high interest, which has led to the implementation of various federal laws.

Federal law now requires employers to provide employees with proper tools and equipment, and training in how to inspect equipment and recognize the need for maintenance. If a refinery is not properly inspected or cleaned, it is not safe. A disorganized facility can cause malfunctioning equipment, dangerous work environments, chemical reactions, and even leaks or spills, which can lead to catastrophic accidents.

5) Failure to Follow OSHA Guidelines

If an employer does not comply with OSHA operating standards, they are not only endangering themselves and their workers, but also those who live near the refinery. OSHA standards are created to ensure that the workplace is kept free from hazards and that every possible safeguard is put into place to avoid an accident. When these are knowingly or neglectfully ignored, it can lead to serious refinery explosions and fires.

Some guidelines that should always be complied with:

  • Inspecting, testing, and performing preventative maintenance
  • Completing a process safety information (PSI) about potential hazards

OSHA guidelines also prevent employers from simply claiming they were unaware of the dangers; they are designed to create an environment of awareness through the continual assessments of workplace hazards.

Why You Need a Refinery Explosion Attorney

At Arnold & Itkin, we have seen firsthand how the dangers of refinery and chemical plant work can cause serious explosions and fires. If you have been injured, we encourage you to contact us as soon as possible. Regardless of whether the refinery accident was caused by unseen corrosion, a contaminated refinery, poor training, or another cause, you can trust in our firm to provide compassionate, effective legal guidance when you need it most. Call today!

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