Wednesday, August 03, 2005

More on Second BP Incident

It was apparently contractors who installed the wrong pipe that caused last Thursday's explosion at BP's Texas City refinery.
BP officials investigating last week's explosion at the Texas City refinery said Monday that contractors accidentally put the wrong kind of pipe spool on a line containing highly flammable hydrogen gas, and company inspectors failed to detect the mistake.

Because a carbon steel spool was installed instead of a more heat-tolerant chromium alloy, the spool could not handle the extreme heat and pressure generated in the line, causing it to explode Thursday.

BP spokesman Ronnie Chappell said the mistake apparently was made during routine maintenance of the so-called resid hydrotreating unit by contractor JV Piping in February.
True to form, BP seems to be trying to blame the workers for the incidetn again:
[Chappell] added that BP workers are generally required to check units for such mistakes before they are restarted.

"When a unit has been down there is a checkout procedure that is followed by a BP person," Chappell said.
Three identically sized pipe spools were removed during maintenance of the hydrotreating unit -- one carbon steel and two chromium alloy. A carbon steel pipe came from a low heat area, but was replaced in the high heat area instead of the chromium alloy pipe. Workers were not even aware of the two different kinds of pipe spools, according to Chemical Safety Board investigators.

Luckily, no one was injured in this incident, although highly pressurized hydrogen heated at about 600 degrees shot out at least 75 feet from the pipe in the refinery's resid hydrotreating unit. This incident follows the March 23 explosion that killed 15 and injured 170 at the same plant.

Workers Comp Insider gets to the root problem at the plant and askes the important questions:
Whose mistake?

The wrong pipe was installed by a contractor, La Porte based J.V. Piping. They performed the work under the supervision of BP staff. As with any good accident investigation, you have to keep asking "why"? We know that the wrong piping was used. Why was this piping installed? Were the proper specs provided to the contractor -- or did BP fail to specify the use of chromium alloy steel? Could the BP supervisors overseeing the work have identified the problem? Or is the root cause further upstream, in the procurement process?

Safety: Stand Down or Fall Down?

The article quotes BP spokesman Hugh Depland as saying that the company was conducting a series of “safety stand downs” whereby workers and safety directors meet individually about safety protocols, procedures and checks.

“It’s about looking everybody in the eye and getting a one-on-one commitment to operating safely,” said Depland. “We have had an incident here, an unfortunate incident, (but) we need to stay committed and stay focused to avoid creating a situation (that could result in another incident).”

You can look people in the eye as long as you like, but if you use the wrong materials to construct your refinery process, no safety drill is going to catch it -- and your employees are constantly at risk. Faced with a number of serious incidents over the past months, BP's management has an enormous challenge: operating and at the same time upgrading an aging facility to meet stringent safety standards. They have to make sure that every aspect of their volatile process is engineered properly and that safety procedures are followed every step of the way. I have the sinking feeling that we will see more damage control in the coming months, as BP tries to get a handle on what is clearly a very hazardous and unstable situation.