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BP worker killed at Texas City refinery

HOUSTON (Reuters) - A supervisor at BP Plc's Texas City, Texas, refinery died on Monday of head injuries suffered when a heavy metal lid blew off a unit during a restart, his family's lawyer and BP said on Tuesday.

William Joseph Gracia, 56, an employee of the refinery for 30 years, was helping prepare a water filtration vessel in the refinery's Ultracracker unit for restart when a metal lid designed to contain pressure of 175 pounds per inch released, BP said in a statement.

Gracia's death calls into question BP's commitment to safety at the refinery since a March 2005 explosion during a unit restart that killed 15 workers, said Tony Buzbee, attorney for Gracia's family.

"It really makes you wonder when three people have died since the March 2005 explosion," Buzbee said.

A BP spokesman said the company remained committed to improving safety at the refinery.

"In the aftermath of all these accidents, we've taken steps to prevent further accidents," BP spokesman Ronnie Chappell said. "OSHA investigated the previous two fatalities and issued no citations."

Investigators from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which regulates worker safety, were at the refinery on Tuesday.

Gracia received a head injury and burns when the lid released, Buzbee said. He was treated by emergency medics at the refinery before being taken to a University of Texas hospital in Galveston, Texas, 14 miles away. He died shortly after arriving at the hospital.

Late on Tuesday afternoon, a state court judge in Galveston issued a restraining order against BP to preserve the accident site at the refinery on behalf of investigators for Gracia's family, according to court documents.

The refinery -- the third-largest in the United States with a faceplate capacity of 460,000 bpd -- underwent extensive investigations by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, OSHA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the March 23, 2005, blast.

The Chemical Safety Board was gathering information about Monday's accident in order to determine if it had jurisdiction to investigate, a spokesman said.

Last year, BP agreed to pay $50 million in fines for violating the Clean Air Act in the explosion. That settlement was blocked by survivors of the blast who asked a federal court to hear arguments for a larger fine.

OSHA slapped BP with a fine of $21.4 million for worker safety violations in the 2005 blast and the company has depleted $1.6 billion set aside to pay injury claims from the blast.

The refinery continues to recover from a rapid shutdown in September 2005 when Hurricane Rita threatened Texas City. Catalytic cracking units and miles of pipes were damaged in the shutdown. BP is spending $1 billion in what it calls a safety overhaul of the refinery.

Both the CSB and an independent panel led by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker III cited a failed safety culture within the company as leading to the blast.

Specifically, the CSB recommended BP develop programs to track safety incidents and determine the safety of units at the Texas City refinery.

 

Erwin Seba
Reuters
January 15, 2008
Houston