Confined Space
News and Commentary on Workplace Health & Safety, Labor and Politics

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

BP Scapegoats Aren't Taking It; Sue Company

Two former BP Amoco employees who were fired after the March 23 explosions that killed 15 workers and injured 170, are suing the company, claiming they were defamed by a report that pins much of the blame for the accident on employee errors.

Steven Adams and Scott Yerrell had both worked for more than 15 years for Amoco, then BP Amoco. They were fired along with four other BP employees. Adams says the only thing he did wrong was "forgetting to sign off on a procedure checklist as he ended his nightshift the morning of the accident — an oversight that he said had no role in the blast."

The blast occurred when a system containing highy combustible materials overpressured and flowed into a vent stack,or blowdown drum, where it overflowed, spewing flammable liquids and vapors throughout the area. The vapors ignited and exploded. Most of the workers killed were in a nearby construction trailer.
For his part, an angry Adams blames the accident on BP's refusal over the years to equip the blowdown stack with a flare, which federal investigators have said may have safely burned away the excess hydrocarbons and vapors.

Thirteen years ago, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined then-Amoco for having such vent stacks in place and suggested flaring them to protect the environment and workers.

But the fine was dismissed, and Amoco and later BP kept the stack on the isom unit in place, even though many other refinery operators began removing such outdated equipment on their plants.

"Blowdown drums are out of date for this day and age," Adams said.

He said that about two and a half years ago, BP began work on a project to equip the blowdown drum and stack with a flare, but that the project was halted for budget reasons.

"Eventually everything was to go to a flare," he said. "They made all the tie-ins and then they pretty much put a halt to it. After that, it was just over and that's the last we heard of it."


In 1997 Adams said in a letter to then-Amoco's Ideas in Action program that he thought a faulty pump on the blowdown drum was dangerous and needed replacing. In a written response two years and two months later, Adams was told the idea was not "cost effective," according to a copy of the response letter.

Adams said he and other union members also opposed the company's decision in 1997 to reduce the number of operators in the control room from two to one. And, more recently, he said there was widespread concern among BP workers that the construction trailer in which several contractors were killed was parked so close to the isomerization unit.
The company seems to be in denial mode.

[BP spokesman Hugh]Depland said the number of operators on duty March 23 was not a contributing cause of the accident. And [BP Products North America President Ross]Pillari said that while the trailer's location increased the number of casualties, officials deemed it a safe location after conducting a hazard review.
Depland also denied that the comany had ever planned to replace the blowdown drum with a flare.

The company also helpfully added that
“We have not identified any individuals who have been terminated and, in fact, we have not confirmed the number of people terminated,” Depland said after declining to confirm if Adams and Yerrell had been fired as a result of the investigation. He also would not confirm if the pair were even BP employees.
In fact, before the men in their little white coats carted him away, Depland was reported to voice serious doubts about whether Adams and Yerrell are human life-forms, or whether any of the 15 workers killed had ever really existed or whether there had even been an explosion or....

I gotta go...

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