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Deaths of Two Workers Killed in Explosion At Chemical Plant Leads to $99,000 Fine

Wednesday, December 18, 2013
By Susanne Pagano

Dec. 16 --A Louisiana chemical plant faces $99,000 in proposed penalties for violating process safety management standards after an explosion that killed two workers in June, the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Dec. 11.

OSHA issued two citations for six violations, including one willful, against Williams Olefins LLC, of Geismar, La., a subsidiary of Tulsa, Okla.-headquartered Williams Partners LP.

Eighty workers were injured in the explosion at the facility, which specializes in the production of natural gas, ethylene and propylene.

OSHA cited Williams Olefins for the willful violation because the employer didn't develop clear, written operating procedures on how to change and place idle pressure vessels into service. The alleged willful violation carries a $70,000 penalty, according to OSHA's citation and notification of penalty. 

Five Serious Violations

One of the five serious violations was failing to describe in the process safety information the hazardous effects of inadvertently mixing hot quench water with propylene that could occur because of a rupture or failure of re-boilers and/or tubes or leaking of the process inflow valve, OSHA said. The agency proposed a $7,000 fine for this violation.

OSHA also proposed a $7,000 penalty because Williams Olefins failed to provide appropriate overpressure protection for a process vessel, a violation of recognized and generally accepted engineering practices, according to agency documentation.

OSHA said the employer didn't complete a process hazard analysis to address the opening of hot quench water flow into a pressure vessel, and didn't properly document workplace training. These two violations carry proposed $7,000 and $3,000 fines, respectively.

The agency also assessed a $5,000 fine because it found Williams Olefins didn't promptly correct deficiencies related to chemical process safety management discovered by an internal compliance audit. Uncorrected deficiencies include a recommendation to promptly modify alarm settings in written operating procedures to reflect the minimum/maximum settings, and to address the inspection and thickness testing of small bore piping in the facility's current fixed equipment program, OSHA said. 

Internal Investigation Ongoing

Williams Olefins is reviewing OSHA's analysis and findings and is continuing its own internal incident investigation, John Dearborn, senior vice president of NGL & Petchem Services, said in a Dec. 13 statement.

The company is committed to learning from OSHA's report to further enhance safety at the Geismar plant, and is working to safely complete the rebuilding and expansion of the facility by April 2014, Dearborn said.

The Williams Olefins explosion, in an area of Louisiana known as “Chemical Alley,” happened one day before an unrelated explosion at C.F. Industries Inc. that killed one worker and injured seven. The two plants are approximately 15 miles apart. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, in addition to OSHA, sent investigators to the Williams Olefins site.

To contact the reporter on this story: Susanne Pagano in Houston at spagano@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jim Stimson at jstimson@bna.com

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