Oil industry develops new safety measures
June 21, 2007 - Posted at 12:00 a.m.
BY ALAN ZIBEL - THE ASSOCIATED PRESS


WASHINGTON - An oil industry trade group said Wednesday it has developed standards to better protect workers from explosions like the 2005 Texas refinery explosion that killed 15 people and injured 170.
The American Petroleum Institute's new standards, to be published today, are designed to meet the demands of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board that made an "urgent" recommendation in October 2005, requiring refineries to limit how close workers' portable trailers can be placed near potentially hazardous operations.
The voluntary standards for refiners, such as Valero Energy Corp. and Exxon Mobil Corp., establish three "blast zones" in which portable buildings could be placed, depending on the trailer's construction material and the size of the refinery unit. For example, trailers made of light wood would not be allowed within 330 feet of a potentially dangerous area.
Red Cavaney, the association's chief executive, said refiners would decide whether and when to implement the recommended standards, but said the industry takes them "very seriously."
Cavaney defended the speed with which the industry adopted the safety board's recommendations, saying they required thorough public review with input from experts in the field.
The safety board, which investigated the March 23 accident two years ago at London-based BP Plc's Texas City refinery, found that nine trailers were located as close as 121 feet from a unit that exploded. It was the worst U.S. industrial accident in more than 16 years.
Workers in trailers as far as 480 feet away from the unit were injured, the safety board found, and trailers as far as 600 feet away were damaged.
William E. Wright, a member of the Chemical Safety Board, said that the API's action was encouraging and said the board will review its recommendations and vote on whether they are acceptable.

Federal regulators say they are stepping up scrutiny of oil refineries to identify any problems contributing to a spate of fatal accidents in recent years. Since 1992, 36 refinery accidents involving hazardous chemicals have caused 52 deaths and 250 injuries, making the industry the most dangerous in the country, according to OSHA.

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