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OSHA proposes $99,000 fine in deadly Louisiana fire

13 December 2013

US federal regulator OSHA has proposed fining Williams Olefins $99,000 for safety violations after the June explosion and fire that killed two workers and injured at least 80 others.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Williams with six safety violations related to procedures designed to handle hazardous chemicals, in this case highly flammable propylene, the agency said in a news release on Dec ember 11.

The workplace safety regulator deemed one of those violations “willful,” a designation that has larger significance.

If OSHA determines there has been a willful violation of safety rules that led to a death, the agency can recommend that the U.S. Department of Justice conduct a criminal investigation.
The willful violation, according to the citation issued by OSHA, involves the company’s failure to develop and use procedures on changing and putting into service pressure vessels known as reboilers. This alone resulted in $70,000 of the $99,000 in penalties OSHA has proposed.
Investigators with OSHA and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board have focused on a reboiler, or heat exchanger, that a safety board official has said “failed catastrophically” inside the Geismar complex’s propylene fractionation unit.

“Williams Olefins violated safety and health standards which, when followed, can protect workers from hazardous chemicals,” said Dorinda Folse, OSHA’s area director in Baton Rouge, in the statement.

“It is the employer’s responsibility to find and fix workplace safety violations and to ensure the safety of its workers. Failing to do so cost two workers their lives.”

The explosion has sparked civil damage suits, a separate, pending probe by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board and two state Department of Environmental Quality compliance orders. The blast was also the subject of a U.S. Senate hearing in late June.

Though OSHA said Wednesday there were 80 injuries in addition to the two deaths, the company and others have previously reported more than 100 injuries from the blast.
Williams officials said they were reviewing the OSHA findings and have cooperated with the agency in a full and transparent manner.

“In addition to conducting our own internal incident investigation, we are committed to learning from OSHA’s report to further enhance safety at the Geismar plant and across our organization,” said John Dearborn, a Williams senior vice president.

The Geismar plant south of Baton Rouge employed 127 workers and specialises in the production of natural gas, ethylene and propylene, OSHA said. Williams Olefins is a subsidiary of Williams Partners LP of Tulsa, Okla.

Williams said in early October that its own investigation found the ruptured reboiler released a vapor cloud that ignited. It concluded that unexpected hydrocarbon liquid was in the reboiler while it was in standby mode. When heat was added to the reboiler, the vessel, which lacked a pressure relief equipment, ruptured.

Williams officials noted that before the June 13 explosion, the Geismar Olefins plant achieved an exceptional and long-standing safety record with no lost-time accidents having occurred at the plant since 2009. The company plans to rebuild the Geismar plant.
 


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