What an oil refinery does is to take crude oil and process it, through what is called fractional instillation, into a number of different forms, such as gasoline for cars, diesel fuel and even jet fuel. Because this process involves heating flammable liquid to extremely high temperatures to separate the different forms of the oil, the margin for error is very small and great care is necessary, in order to protect refinery workers from harm.
Refining oil also takes a lot of equipment, including a furnace, burners, the pipes used to transport the crude oil in and the various other products out and much more complicated machinery that must be maintained in proper working order at all times. Failure to maintain equipment to exacting standards can result in very serious accidents.
Defective equipment is a leading cause of accidents at refineries, as is the case at most industrial workplaces and they are not just limited to those involving explosions.
If equipment isn’t in prime working order, they can cause a number of dangerous situations, such as:
- Slips and falls: oil is very slick in any form and, if it leaks, it can result in a very dangerous situation for workers unable to keep their footing.
- Chemical leaks: the chemicals used in the refining process are both toxic and flammable, which means if equipment is defective and chemicals aren’t handled properly, the release can lead to illness, injury or even death.
- Fires: nearly everything handled at a refinery is flammable, and the process involves heating a flammable liquid to very high temperatures, which means the process has to be handled perfectly. Damaged or poorly maintained equipment can make these processes more unsafe, which can result in extensive fires, which can cause worker injuries or death.
- Explosions: many refinery fires are the result of fire, while many others can be caused by a mix of chemicals that result from leaks from defective machines that have not been serviced and maintained properly.
Employers are always responsible for developing and maintaining a safe working environment for every worker, including those who perform inherently dangerous work. The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has enacted a number of rules, guidelines and regulations for refineries that the owners and operators of those refineries are required to follow in order to avoid accidents and worker injury or death. Refinery owners are even supposed to hire certain people who only job it is to inspect equipment on a regular basis to ensure that it is always in good working order and that it is safe for workers to use. Virtually all workplace accidents are avoidable, especially those involving defective equipment.