US refineries have come under increasing scrutiny following a series of deadly explosions due to poor accident prevention methods.
The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board had completed a new report entitled, Seven Key Lessons to Prevent Worker Deaths During Hot Work In and Around Tanks, less than one month before an asphalt storage tank explosion claimed two workers lives on 2 March at Holly Corporations Navajo Refinery.
The report emphasises the importance of using on-site gas monitoring equipment before welding on or near petrochemical storage tanks. More than 60 workers have been killed since 1990 in at least 11 separate explosions nationwide, the report concludes.
It is unclear whether on-site gas monitoring was being used or used properly the day of the Artesia explosion or whether doing so could have saved the lives the workers who were killed.
The New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Bureau is still investigating the Artesia explosion and should have a report ready before the end of the year.
News reports nationwide suggest at least 15 refinery workers have been killed this year alone, including the two men killed in the Navajo refinery explosion, six killed in a February explosion at the Kleen Energy refinery in Middletown, Connecticut, and seven killed in the 2 April Tesoro refinery blast in Washington state.
In 2005 15 workers died and more than 100 were injured after an explosion at BPs Texas City refinery. Since 2007, BP has been cited for more than 700 safety violations by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
The 2007 state Occupational Safety and Health Bureau inspections of the Navajo refinery in Artesia, which led to nine safety violation citations in 2008, were part of a nationwide refinery safety evaluation push coordinated by OSHA.
In most states, the federal OSHA conducts workplace safety inspections. But in some states, including New Mexico, the state oversees workplace safety.
In June OSHA began implementation of a new Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which will allow patterns of safety violations in one state to prompt inspections of a companys facilities nationwide. The agency is also increasing the cost of fines imposed for safety violations, for only the second time in 40 years.
Under the new rules, the average penalty for serious, or potential life-threatening, violations will increase from about $1,000 (778) to between $3,000 and $4,000.
There has been significant progress over the years, as facilities continually enhance their safety programmes, National Petrochemical and Refiners Association president Charlie Drevna said in June. There is no tolerable level of workplace-related incidents. Our goal is to reduce these to zero, and we will do everything possible to reach that goal. We believe that the best way to improve safety in our industry is to work in cooperation rather than confrontation with all stakeholders: OSHA, the Chemical Safety Board, labour unions, contractors and Congress.