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Steelworkers Tell Congress: We Need Safe Refineries

Members of Congress got an earful today about the dangerous and often life-threatening conditions workers face at oil refineries and in other oil processing facilities. At a briefing sponsored by the United Steelworkers (USW), Kim Nibarger, a USW health and safety specialist, laid out the issue in stark terms:

When things go bad in a refinery, they go really bad and people die.

Since the last round of talks in the National Oil Bargaining program, the industry has reported r25 fatalities and 175 fires in oil industry facilities, according to the USW. A new round of bargaining is expected to begin in January.

In recent years, the oil industry has focused its safety efforts on the individual worker—making sure people wear their goggles and hardhats, for instance —while ignoring the perils of aging and poorly maintained equipment and plants, according to the USW. As Nibarger explained:

BP had a low personal injury rate at its refineries, but the 2005 explosion and fire at its Texas City plant showed it failed miserably in terms of process safety. Fifteen people were killed and 170 were injured in the 2005 accident as a result of this failure.

USW Vice President Gary Beevers, who heads the National Oil Bargaining program, also addressed the briefing. In May, Beevers called on oil company investors to do their part to ensure workers’ safety.

The National Oil Bargaining pattern agreement, which governs the working conditions of oil workers, is set to expire Feb. 1.

The USW represents 30,000 workers at 168 production, refining, marketing, transportation, pipeline and petrochemical facilities nationwide.

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