Unfortunately, as oil refineries expand and more workers are employed, the greater the risk of serious injuries or deaths. Workers in the oil refining industry are seven times more likely to suffer a fatal injury on the job than workers in other professions. Companies like Exxon are tasked with following federal and state safety guidelines in order to prevent injuries and deaths. Sadly, leaders in the petrochemical industry often fail to take necessary steps that save lives.
If you have been injured in an oil refinery incident, Kherkher Garcia, LLP is here to help. Our petrochemical injury lawyers have more than 30 years experience helping clients just like you. We have recovered billions of dollars on behalf of victims – our clients. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.
Exxon’s Massive Refinery Expansion
Exxon’s massive refinery expansion in Beaumont provides an excellent opportunity to discuss the hazards that accompany working in the oil refining industry. Exxon operates one of the largest petrochemical complexes along the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Currently, the Beaumont refinery produces around 380,000 barrels of fuel per day. The $2 billion expansion will add the capacity for an additional 250,000 barrels. To complete the expansion, Exxon has hired more than 1,700 contractors and 50 additional full-time employees. They have not disclosed how many additional job opportunities may be available. Upon completion, the refinery complex will be among the largest in the U.S.
Dangers of Massive Oil Refinery Complexes
Oil refining complexes occupy hundreds of acres with concrete and metal structures and miles of piping and machinery. Owners and managers must properly maintain these massive complexes, and employees must receive proper training, in order to operate safely.
It is important for oil refineries to have robust safety protocols in place to prevent accidents and mitigate their consequences. Unfortunately, petrochemical companies have a poor reputation for maintaining safety guidelines and regulations. Even some of the most disastrous and notable incidents in recent years could have been prevented by following safety regulations.
Common Causes of Oil Refinery Accidents and Injuries
Oil refinery accidents occur for many reasons including equipment failure, human error, and natural disasters. The vast majority of accidents causing injury or death are preventable if owners and employers adhere to safety regulations and ensure a safe work environment.
Some of the most common causes of accidents in oil refineries include:
- Failure to comply with state and federal laws
- Failure to comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations
- Inadequate training of employees
- Failure to provide proper personal protection equipment (PPE)
- Improper storage of chemicals and hazardous materials
- Failure to properly maintain equipment and machinery
- Use of defective parts on equipment
- Unresolved cracks in pipes, lines, or storage units
- Failure to report safety violations
- Failure to provide and maintain fire suppression systems
Oil refinery owners and managers are responsible for maintaining a safe work environment. Additionally, most refineries have employees whose sole purpose is to investigate and mitigate potential hazards, defects, or other dangers. When owners, managers, or others are negligent in upholding their duties, serious injuries can, and do, occur.
Hazards of Working in Oil Refining
There are many hazards when working in the oil refining industry. Some hazards are unique given the work environment, and others are common in almost any industry. Many of the hazards in oil refining are due to the process of refining, which involves dangerous purification, toxic chemicals, exposure to heat, and working around machinery.
Exposure to Toxic Chemicals
For crude oil to break down, it must go through a refining process that involves chemicals and extreme heat. As the crude oil breaks down, gases then release, which are toxic to humans. Workers in or near this process should be outfitted with PPE which protects them from exposure to toxic chemicals, such as:
- Sulfur Dioxide
- Hydrogen Sulfide
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
Unfortunately, sometimes workers do not have adequate PPE, or do not receive proper training in how to mitigate the risk of exposure to chemicals. As a result, they face the risk of respiratory illness and other injuries due to breathing in toxic gases.
In order for crude oil to be useful, the molecule must separate from the base. To do this, the crude oil is heated to nearly 900 degrees in a Coker unit. During this process, hot oil can splash causing direct burns. Splashes or leaks can also cause local fires.
There are numerous fire and explosion hazards in oil refining that put workers at risk, including:
- Tanks, containers, and other equipment that may house flammable vapors
- Repair work that requires “hot work” using combustible materials
- Welding, soldering, grinding, or using other spark-producing tools
Fires and explosions can cause external and internal burns, organ damage, and death.
Oil refining complexes include large structures with scaffolding, catwalks, ladders, and pipes. Combine these elements with varying weather conditions, wear-and-tear, fatigue, and other factors, and falls are a serious hazard. In fact, OSHA suggests that falls are one of the leading causes of serious injuries or death. Some of the contributors to fall accidents at oil refineries include:
- Ladder Hazards: Some ladders extend more than 100 feet. Oil, grease, debris, and weather conditions can cause ladders to be slick.
- Walkways and Scaffolding Hazards: Walkways and scaffolding at oil refineries often do not have safety railing or edging. Holes, breaks, or out of place equipment can cause tripping, slipping, or falling.
- Fatigue: Refinery workers work up to 16 hours per shift. Fatigue is a constant hazard in this industry, and increases the risk of falls and other injuries.
- Weather Conditions: Along the Texas Gulf Coast, the weather can change quite quickly. Wet, snowy, or icy surfaces certainly contribute to the risk of falls.
- Inadequate Training and Gear: Workers who climb or work at tall heights should be trained in proper fall prevention. Furthermore, workers should be provided safety gear, such as a harness or safety net. More generally, stairs and walkways should be equipped with railings to prevent falls.
OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) each have requirements and guidelines for preventing falls in the workplace, including, more specifically, the oil and gas industry.
Explosions are one of the most common and deadly incidents in the oil refining industry. In the U.S., there are 141 oil refineries. Since 1994, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reported at least 500 refinery incidents. Many of these incidents caused catastrophic damage, hundreds of injuries, and loss of life.
What makes explosions at oil refineries even more devastating is the fact that many are preventable. For example, an OSHA investigation into an explosion at the Kleen Energy Systems plant in Connecticut revealed more than 400 safety violations. OSHA has also reported explosions due to malfunctioning or improperly maintained equipment.
In 2005, a BP refinery in Texas City exploded killing 16 workers and injuring 180. This explosion was due to flooding of a distillation tower with hydrocarbons. The over pressurization caused a geyser-like release of fluid from the vent stack.
Machine hazards in the oil and gas industry refer to the risks posed by the use of heavy equipment and machinery involved in exploration, drilling, and production operations. In oil refineries, these hazards include equipment failure, fires, explosions, and exposure to harmful chemicals and materials.
Workers in oil refineries are at risk of injury or death from accidents involving:
- Drilling rigs
- Hoist blocks
- Treatment tanks
Proper training, maintenance, and use of PPE are essential to mitigate these risks and protect workers. Additionally, advances in automation and robotics technology may offer new ways to improve safety and reduce the risk of accidents.
According to OSHA, three out of five fatalities in the oil and gas industry are related to a worker being struck-by, caught-in, or caught-between hazards. Some of the most common hazards include being struck by, or caught in/between:
- Falling equipment
- High-pressure lines
- Hoist lines
OSHA and NIOSH provide guidance for the oil and gas industry on how to mitigate the risk of these catastrophic – often fatal – injuries. Sadly, they still occur at an alarming rate.
Increased Risk of Cancer
While research is unclear on the exact association between proximity to oil refineries and cancer rates, researchers do believe that individuals working in, or living near, oil refineries may be at an increased risk of developing certain types of cancers.
A study published in JNCI Cancer Spectrum in 2020 revealed that individuals living within 30 miles of an oil refinery had higher rates of cancers including:
Workers in oil refineries are at a higher risk of cancer due to direct exposure and long-term exposure to toxic chemicals and air pollutants. Similarly, those living within a close proximity to an oil refinery also appear to have a higher risk due to air pollutants.
Can Oil Refinery Injuries be Prevented?
Oil refinery accidents and resulting injuries and deaths can be prevented through various measures that focus on reducing the risks associated with refinery operations. Some of the ways to prevent oil refinery accidents include:
- Regular maintenance of equipment and machinery to ensure that they are in good working condition and free from defects.
- Implementation of proper safety protocols, such as the use of personal protective equipment.
- Adherence to safety procedures, to prevent human error and reduce the risk of accidents.
- Training of workers to ensure that they are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to perform their tasks safely.
- Regular safety inspections and audits to identify potential hazards and risks before they cause accidents.
- Adoption of modern technologies such as automation, robotics, and remote monitoring to reduce the risk of human error and improve safety.
- Emergency response planning to prepare for and respond to accidents and incidents that may occur.
By implementing these measures and continuously improving safety practices, oil refinery accidents can be prevented, reducing the risk of harm to workers, communities, and the environment.
Who is Liable for Oil Refinery Injuries?
Determining liability for oil refinery injuries can be complex and depends on the specific circumstances of each case. Liability can fall on different parties, including the refinery owner, contractors, equipment manufacturers, and individual employees.
- Refinery Owners: The refinery owner can be held liable if they failed to provide a safe working environment or if they did not properly maintain equipment and machinery.
- Contractors: Contractors who work at the refinery can also be held responsible for injuries that occur as a result of their actions or negligence.
- Equipment Manufacturers: Equipment manufacturers can be held liable if their products are found to be defective and contributed to the injury.
- Individual Employees: Individual employees can also be held responsible for injuries that result from their own negligence or failure to follow safety protocols.
In many cases, multiple parties can be liable for oil refinery injuries, and determining liability can require an investigation into the root cause of the accident.
It is important for workers who have oil refinery injuries to seek legal representation to help determine liability and pursue compensation for their injuries, medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages.
A skilled law firm like Kherkher Garcia can investigate every nuance of your case to determine liability and get you the compensation you deserve.
How Does a Petrochemical Injury Lawyer Investigate a Claim?
Claims involving oil refineries are often complex, but they are never impossible. With the right combination of skill, resources, and experience, a compelling and successful case is highly possible.
At Kherkher Garcia, we understand what it takes to gather evidence, evaluate the strength of the claim, and build a case to pursue compensation for our clients. For every injury case, we take the following steps:
- Conduct a Preliminary Evaluation: Our team will first evaluate the claim to determine if there is enough evidence to support it. We may ask for information about the accident, injuries, and medical treatment received.
- Gather Evidence: Next, our lawyers will gather evidence to support the claim. This may include reviewing medical records, accident reports, witness statements, and other relevant documents. We often visit the accident site ourselves to gather additional information.
- Consult Experts: As we build your case, we may consult with experts, such as medical professionals or accident reconstruction specialists, to evaluate the extent of your injuries and the cause of the accident.
- Determine Liability: Our lawyers will investigate to determine who is liable for the accident and resulting injuries. This may include reviewing contracts, employment agreements, and insurance policies.
- Calculate Damages: Our lawyers will carefully and thoroughly evaluate the damages you continue to suffer, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering, to determine the appropriate compensation.
- Negotiating a Settlement: Often, our lawyers attempt to negotiate with the responsible party or their insurance company to reach a settlement that fairly compensates you for your injuries. This eliminates the need to go to trial.
- Filing a Lawsuit: If we cannot negotiate a settlement, our lawyers will then file a lawsuit and represent you in court.
What Should I do if I was Injured While Working in an Oil Refinery?
If you are injured due to an oil refining accident, there are three important things you should do:
- Get medical attention
- Notify your employer
- Contact a petrochemical injury lawyer
The aftermath of an oil refinery accident can be confusing, painful, and overwhelming. But by taking these three steps as soon as possible, you are taking the first steps toward protecting yourself and your legal rights.
Trust the Skill and Results of Our Petrochemical Injury Lawyers
If you are injured as a result of an oil refinery accident, you may be entitled to compensation. At Kherkher Garcia, we have helped numerous clients battling oil refinery injuries with outstanding results. In fact, we recovered $60 million on behalf of dozens of workers who were injured in a refinery explosion.
Trust our skill and results with your oil refinery injury case. To learn more about our services and how we can help you, call us at 713-333-1030 to start your FREE consultation.