NPRA Seeks Cooperation on Safety Issues at Refineries and Petrochemical Plants

Jun 10, 2010, 11:16 ET from National Petrochemical & Refiners Association

WASHINGTON, June 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Operators of petroleum refineries and petrochemical plants want to work closely with federal agencies, labor unions and others to make further progress in preventing injuries and fatalities at their facilities, the president of NPRA, the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, told a Senate subcommittee today.

"Nothing is more precious than the good health and the lives of our employees and contractors," NPRA President Charles T. Drevna said in prepared testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety. "There has been significant progress over the years, as facilities continually enhance their safety programs. The result is fewer and fewer people being injured at refineries and petrochemical plants."

"We firmly believe that there is no tolerable level of injury," Drevna added. "There is no tolerable level of workplace-related incidents. Our goal is to reduce these to zero, and we will do everything possible to reach that goal."

"We believe that the best way to improve safety in our industry is to work in cooperation – rather than confrontation – with all stakeholders:  OSHA, the Chemical Safety Board, labor unions, contractors and Congress," Drevna said. "We all seek the same goal – safe workplaces, where every worker goes home safe and sound every day."  

"Issuing dueling press releases, denouncing each other for the TV cameras and in expensive ads, and using inflammatory rhetoric to score political points won't accomplish our common goals and, if anything, will only serve to make the task even harder," Drevna said. "Instead of applying our energy to escalate the rhetoric of charge and countercharge involving safety, we must join forces to improve the reality of safety."

Drevna said NPRA is planning a workshop focusing on refinery safety with significant input from OSHA (the Occupational Health and Safety Administration) and labor unions this fall. He invited committee members and their staffs to attend.

The NPRA president cited a list of specific safety improvements refineries have made over the past five years, including moving structures at refineries to safer locations, making more buildings blast-resistant, keeping as many workers as possible away from areas during hazardous operations, and improving operating procedures and worker training.

"Our members go above and beyond what is required by OSHA and other government regulations, and are always reviewing new techniques to improve both personnel and process safety," Drevna said. "They have invested and will continue to invest heavily to make refining and petrochemical manufacturing processes safer."

Personnel safety is involved with protecting the safety, health and welfare of the people who work in refineries and petrochemical plants.

Process safety, which is equally important, involves making sure that a facility operates properly.  That means maintaining the equipment in a way that will avoid chemical releases and other incidents that could harm people, the facility itself, or the surrounding area.

Drevna said that besides being the right thing to do, promoting safety makes good business sense, because it is far more expensive to deal with the aftermath of workplace incidents than to prevent them.

NPRA agrees with OSHA that OSHA inspectors need to focus on facilities and companies with the most serious workplace safety problems, and not try to find every minor violation at every facility, Drevna said. He said OSHA should use its enforcement arm against operators of refineries and petrochemical plants that commit serious violations and aren't taking necessary steps to comply with safety regulations.

"If there are bad actors, government should be acting against them," Drevna said. "But in all fairness, it is not accurate to paint everyone in the domestic petroleum refining and petrochemical business – or any business for that matter – with a broad brush, condemning all because of the actions of a very few."

SOURCE National Petrochemical & Refiners Association