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Williams Cited for Six Violations Related to Geismar Explosion

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited Williams Olefins LLC for six process safety management violations related to a June explosion at its Geismar, LA, plant that killed two workers and injured 80 people (see Daily GPI, June 25).

One of the six violations was categorized as "willful." Williams Olefins was cited for failing to develop clear, written procedures for how to change and put idle pressure vessels into service. A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.

Process safety management encompasses a detailed set of requirements and procedures employers must follow to address hazards associated with processes and equipment that use large amounts of hazardous chemicals. In this case, it was the use of propylene.

"Williams Olefins violated safety and health standards which, when followed, can protect workers from hazardous chemicals," said Dorinda Folse, OSHA area director in Baton Rouge, LA. "It is the employer's responsibility to find and fix workplace safety violations and to ensure the safety of its workers. Failing to do so cost two workers their lives."

The five "serious" violations include inadvertently mixing hot quench water with propylene; failing to provide appropriate pressure protection for a pressure vessel; complete a process hazard analysis to address the opening of hot quench water flow into a pressure vessel; properly document workplace training; and promptly correct deficiencies related to process safety management discovered by an internal compliance audit team. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

Proposed penalties total $99,000. The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's Baton Rouge area director, or contest the findings.

Williams Olefins is a subsidiary of Tulsa, OK-based Williams Partners LP. The company's Geismar location employs about 127 workers and specializes in the production of natural gas, ethylene and propylene. Williams confirmed receipt of the OSHA findings.

"Williams cooperated in a full and transparent manner to support OSHA's investigation, and we are in the process of reviewing the analysis," said John Dearborn, senior vice president for natural gas liquids and petrochemical services.

The company said in late July that it planned to restart the Geismar facility in Louisiana and bring online a facility expansion in early April (see Daily GPI, Aug. 1).

"The Geismar expansion is scheduled to come on line in early April, and we are disappointed that...the facility had an explosion fire, and we are in the process of recovering from that and as well as completing a scheduled turnaround in the expansion project," Williams Partners CFO Don Chappel said at a Wells Fargo investors conference on Tuesday. "All long lead-time items have been received, so it comes down to a significant amount of man-hours and productivity to bring the plant back in service. We’ve had more than 1,600 contractors on site performing this work and we are managing it very closely because it’s a very, very important project to us."

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