Training Woes Led to Tragic BP Refinery Accident

Workers were trying to correct rising liquid levels in a fuel gas mix drum when a flammable vapor cloud formed.

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In September 2022, workers at an Oregon, Ohio, refinery's crude unit attempted to correct rising liquid levels in a fuel gas mix drum when a flammable vapor cloud formed, ignited and triggered an explosion, causing deadly burns. Two workers were fatally burned.

A federal investigation into the accident found that BP Products North America violated the U.S. Department of Labor's process safety procedures for highly hazardous materials and failed to adequately train the workers.

OSHA inspectors determined that naphtha – a flammable liquid hydrocarbon mixture – was released when flow control valves were opened in an attempt to regulate an overfill occurring in upstream process equipment. The opened valve allowed the flammable liquid to enter the refinery's fuel gas system.

BP Products was cited for failing to implement shutdown procedures for the equipment when requested by the operators responding to the naphtha release and for not clearly defining conditions for emergency shutdown of the crude tower.

OSHA proposed $156,250 in penalties, an amount set by federal statutes, and cited the company for 10 serious violations, and one other-than-serious violation of process safety management procedures. Specifically, the agency found BP Products failed to:

  • Train operators to identify the presence of naphtha during an upset condition.
  • Develop and implement safe work practices for responding to upset conditions.
  • Document design for pressure safety valves, including for an overpressure scenario.
  • Address hazards of overfilling process vessels, and safeguards needed to protect against an overfill.
  • Evaluate for engineering or administrative controls for draining process equipment during upset conditions.
  • Address human factors with the operation of the inside control board screen loading delays.
  • Ensure process hazard assessments were accurate with respect to level indicator safeguards.

A subsidiary of BP of the United Kingdom, BP Products North America Inc. is based in Houston. The company explores, develops, refines, and markets oil and natural gas. BP Products North America serves customers throughout the world.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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