By Gregory Hale
Ben Morrissey and Max Morrissey surely came into work September 20, 2022, with the usual thoughts on their minds like what do we have to do today to keep things up and running, what can I learn, is there any nonsense I have to deal with at the office? That kind of thing.

What the brothers didn’t know was on September 20 at 6:46 p.m. they would die trying to protect themselves and their worker compatriots before an extreme flash fire struck at the BP-Husky Refining LLC refinery in Oregon, Ohio, when a vapor cloud created by releasing a flammable liquid, naphtha, directly to the ground caught an ignition source. In addition to the lost lives, the ensuing damage shut down the plant and ended up costing well over $500 million.

In its investigation, the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) determined the cause of the incident was operators opening valves and removing a flange on the pressurized Fuel Gas Mix Drum to release a flammable liquid, naphtha, directly to the ground.

Contributing to the Incident
Contributing to the incident among other things were 1) the refinery’s failure to implement effective preventive safeguards for the overflow of towers and vessels in various pieces of equipment which led to an over-reliance on human intervention to prevent incidents; 2) the refinery’s failure to implement a shutdown or hot circulation through the use of Stop Work Authority or otherwise; 3) the refinery’s ineffective policies, procedures, and practices to avoid and control abnormal situations; 4) the refinery’s alarm system which flooded operators with alarms throughout the day resulting in poor decision making; and 5) the refinery’s failure to learn from previous incidents.

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While no one wanted that to happen, but the fatalities – and the disaster in general – were just a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode.

This incident happened in Oregon, OH, but it was not unique from a global perspective, as workers died just this year alone in incidents in India, South Korea, China, Pakistan, Mexico, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, just to name a few. The most recent numbers from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) show there were 5,486 fatal work injuries in the United States in 2022 which was the most recent year the statistics were available.

Now, there is no denying safety in the manufacturing sector for the post part has gotten better over the years, but there is also no denying with more workers leaving the industry and not enough coming in safety on a global scale seems to be slipping.

The manufacturing industry can be a tough environment, especially at a refinery. It can be cold and heartless while maintaining and delivering product day in and day out. As the saying goes, time is money and the more you keep up and running, the more profit the company makes. And when a safety incident starts to arise, do the workers feel compelled to stop the process? Well, they better have a rock-solid reason.

Recommended Changes
As a matter of fact, the CSB, in one of its recommendations said, the company needs to develop or revise existing policy that clearly provides employees with the authority to stop work perceived to be unsafe until the employer can resolve the matter. This should include detailed procedures and regular training on how employees would exercise their stop work authority. Emphasis should be on exercising this authority during abnormal situations, including alarm floods.

Often the same thing is true, the fatal event did not just happen because of one incident, but a series of incidents over time that cascade into a disaster. The Texas City refinery disaster comes to mind where 15 people died and over 180 suffered injuries, another is the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, where 11 workers perished.

Let’s put some context to this disaster. Yes, the fire and the damages to the refinery were important, but two workers died. They were not just workers at a refinery, they had lives outside of work. People depended on them.

Ben Morrissey, 32, had only worked at the BP Husky refinery for six months. He married his wife, Kaddie, on October 12, 2019, and had two children together, his son Weslee and his daughter, Benna, who Ben never got a chance to meet.

Max Morrissey, 34, who had worked at the refinery since 2020, was a Navy veteran and married Darah on September 24, 2015, and they had two boys, Wilde and Recker.

These two were living, breathing people, not just cold statistics.

Manufacturers and workers need to come together to make sure they stay on top of their game and not let these types of incidents continue to occur. Vigilance is key. As a whole, the industry is getting better, but it all comes down to the individual manufacturers — and workers – to make a difference. It can happen.

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