Labor History in 2:00

March 23 Refinery Explosion Kills 15 Workers

March 23, 2017

On this day in labor history the year was 2005.

That was the day 15 workers were killed and another 170 were seriously injured in an explosion at the BP refinery in Texas City, Texas.

Workers were re-starting a unit down for repairs.

As they filled a tower with gasoline, it overflowed, sending a geyser into the air.

The igniting hydrogen vapor cloud created a chain of explosions that destroyed the nearby trailers, housing temporary contract workers.

The explosion shed light on many key problems throughout the industry: the increasing use of contract workers, safety short cuts and qualitative lack of industrial process controls.

A 2007 Chemical Safety Board report found that “years of cost-cutting, poor worker training and a safety culture with “serious deficiencies” left the plant ‘vulnerable to catastrophe,’ but company leaders ignored the warning signs.”

OSHA fined BP $21.3 million and more, but ultimately settled for $13 million.

For years, the catastrophe was studied closely to eliminate the hazards.

But 10 years later, a 2015 joint investigative series by The Texas Tribune and Houston Chronicle found that “there is little evidence that the 15 lives lost on that March day bought much of anything: The death toll at U.S. refineries has barely slowed… At least 64 energy company employees and contractors were killed in the decade before the blast. At least 58 have died in the 10 years since…

The Department of Energy has tracked nearly 350 fires at refineries in the last eight years — almost one every week.

Refinery workers have gone on strike demanding, among other issues, an increased emphasis on safety.”

For the United Steelworkers, it is a daily fight to implement the critical safety actions the union developed in the aftermath of the blast.


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