TEXAS CITY, TX -- The family of a worker who was killed at BP's Texas City refinery said "a lot of questions need to be answered" about the accident, which the company said involved a metal lid flying from a water filtration vessel.
William Joseph Gracia, 56, was the third worker to be killed at the refinery since a massive explosion there killed 15 people and injured another 170 nearly three years ago.
Gracia, a shift foreman who had worked at the plant for 32 years, died Monday after the metal lid struck him in the head, the company said. The water filtration vessel was being restarted when the lid came off. The filtration system is attached to a compressor on the refinery's ultracracker unit, but the compressor was not running at the time.
"We don't know what caused this terrible incident and, as part of this investigation, we'll be looking at the lid, at the bolts used to hold it in place, at how the filter change was conducted -- all aspects of the circumstances surrounding this incident," said Ronnie Chappell, a spokesman for London-based BP.
Tony Buzbee, an attorney for Gracia's family, said he was told by refinery workers that the bolts on the high-pressure vessel were loose or not strong enough.
"There are a lot of questions that need to be answered," Buzbee said. "With the history of the plant, one could jump to conclusions about the cause, but we're trying to take a wait-and-see stance."
A state district judge signed a temporary restraining order Tuesday at the request of Gracia's family. The order requires BP to preserve evidence from the scene and allows lawyers and consultants for Gracia's family to be involved in the investigation
The company said it was already preserving the scene as part of its own investigation. A spokeswoman for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said the agency launched its investigation Tuesday morning.
"We're deeply saddened that someone who worked with us for more than 30 years died in a workplace accident," Chappell said.
Chappell said OSHA did not cite BP for the other two refinery deaths in the past two years. In July 2006, a contract worker died when he was crushed between a pipe stack and a mechanical lift. In June 2007, a contract worker was electrocuted at the plant.
The March 2005 blast that killed 15 workers occurred after a piece of equipment called a blowdown drum overfilled with highly flammable liquid hydrocarbons. Alarms and gauges that were supposed to warn of the overfilled equipment didn't work properly.
BP has spent $1 billion repairing the site, which is about 40 miles southeast of Houston.
The refinery has been operating at about half its capacity of 470,000 barrels a day since the explosions. The company had said it was on course to reach about 400,000 barrels a day in January or February.
BP spent $1.6 billion to settle about 4,000 claims resulting from the 2005 blast.
In October, the company pleaded guilty to a felony violation of the Clean Air Act for operating under unsafe conditions leading up to March 2005. It agreed to pay a $50 million fine. Victims families have challenged that agreement, saying it's too lenient.
January 16, 2008