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Contract worker electrocuted at BP refinery

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    By Mark Collette
    The Daily News

    Published June 7, 2007
    TEXAS CITY — A contract worker was electrocuted at the BP refinery late Tuesday afternoon and the company said Wednesday it still has room to improve its safety measures.

    The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 527 in Galveston confirmed that union member Richard Liening, 44, died.

    BP spokesman Ronnie Chappell said Liening, a Texas City resident and employee of AMEX Electrical Services, was working on an idle processing unit when he was electrocuted. He was taken to the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

    The accident was a stark reminder that BP is still working to improve safety measures at the refinery.

    “We were very pleased with the progress we’re making, but it’s clear today that we have more to do,” Chappell said.

    He also said it was “a very sad day here at Texas City. We’ve been working very hard to create a safety culture in which something like this can’t occur. We’ll continue that effort.”

    BP sent home more than 3,000 contract workers Wednesday as one of the company’s accident investigation teams arrived from the West Coast, Chappell said.

    Investigators from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration were on site Wednesday, said OSHA spokeswoman Diana Petterson.

    The agency has up to six months to complete an investigation, she said.

    Galveston County Chief Medical Examiner Stephen Pustilnik said he ruled the death an accidental electrocution.

    No BP employees were sent home Wednesday and Chappell said refinery production was not affected.

    “We initiated a 24-hour safety stand-down,” he said.

    “Only work that is essential for the continued safe operation of the refinery will take place today.”

    The company did not release details about how or when the accident happened, but Chappell said BP has already begun conducting safety conversations with the contract service companies that supply thousands of workers at the plant.

    “We are talking about what we need to do to prevent something like this from happening again,” he said.

    Liening arrived at the medical branch at 4:38 p.m. on Tuesday, said hospital spokesman John Koloen. He arrived via ground transportation, possibly in a company vehicle. Texas City officials said they were not called to respond to the accident. Bruce Clawson, the city’s director of homeland security, said BP notified him of the accident as a courtesy at 6:08 p.m.

    About half of BP’s production units have been offline since Hurricane Rita came ashore in 2005.

    Chappell said that, during the ensuing repairs, the refinery has recorded about 15 million man hours of work, around three times the amount at a typical refinery.

    “We had just completed 8 million man hours of effort without an accident of sufficient severity even to cause someone to miss a day of work,” he said, adding that was “an achievement, but it’s an achievement that doesn’t mean very much when you experience a tragic accident like the one that occurred here yesterday.”

    In 2005, 15 workers were killed and about 170 were injured in an explosion during the startup of a processing unit.

    Attorney Brent Coon, who represents many of those workers, issued a statement Wednesday rebuking BP and arguing that such accidents shouldn’t be acceptable under any circumstances.

    “We are extremely upset and disappointed to hear that yet another avoidable fatality has occurred at this facility,” he said.

    In March 2004, two workers were fatally burned by superheated water.

    In July 2006, a contract worker died in a mechanical-lift accident.


    Fatal Accidents At BP

    • September 2004: Two workers are fatally burned by superheated water while working on a pipeline at BP.

    • March 2005: Fifteen workers are killed when volatile gases overflow and ignite.

    • July 2006: A contract worker is crushed between a pipe stack and a mechanical lift as he operates the lift.

    • June 2007: A contract worker is electrocuted.

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