February 19, 2015

After A String Of Accidents, Refinery Workers Strike For Safety

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February 19, 2015 | High Country News | Kate Schimel

As workers at nine refineries around the country enter the 19th day of their strike for safer working conditions, an explosion rocked another refinery in southern California yesterday, giving more weight to the striking workers’ complaints.

As High Country News reports,

Complaints about safety are not unusual in the refining industry, where a string of accidents and explosions over the past decade have fueled a reputation for sloppy safety practices. But [February’s strike] marked a turning point: For the first time in three decades, workers in refineries across the country went on strike to demand substantial changes to how employers prepare workers for dangerous work conditions.

The workers union says that refineries run machinery to the breaking point and don’t provide workers with sufficient training to detect problems. Refineries also don’t have enough employees and force the ones they do have to work long hours, the union says. In Wyoming, for example, the Sinclair refinery has been cited time and time again for safety violations.

Even though investigations of refinery accidents have blamed companies for safety problems, High Country News reports that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has struggled to force companies to improve working conditions.

It sounds a bit familiar to another segment of the oil and gas industry we’ve reported on here at Inside Energy — drilling and extraction. Except here, workers aren’t unionized and can’t go on strike to protest dangerous working conditions.