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Citations in deadly oil refinery explosion affirmed

oil refinery

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday affirmed citations against an Oklahoma oil refinery after an explosion killed two workers in 2012.

The incident stems from alleged workplace safety violations at a Wynnewood, Oklahoma, refinery run by Wynnewood Refining Co. LLC after workers were found to have improperly started a boiler, resulting in an explosion that immediately killed one worker and another 28 days after the incident, according to documents in Secretary of Labor v. Wynnewood Refining Co. LLC and the Occupational Safety and Health Review, filed in Denver. 


The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission on March 28 affirmed 12 citations alleging violations of various provisions of OSHA’s Process Safety Management standard,

affirmed all violations as serious — but not all repeat, as cited — and assessed a total penalty of $58,000 for them, according to documents. 


Legal experts said at the time that the review commission’s decision could have wider implications for the process safety management standard.


On its second appeal, now in federal court, Wynnewood continued to argue that the process safety management standard only applies to processes that involve “a threshold amount of highly hazardous chemicals,” of which the boiler that exploded did not, according to documents.


The review commission, in a ruling affirmed by the federal appeals court on Tuesday, found that the boiler’s proximity to chemicals is part of a process because it was “located such that a highly hazardous chemical could be involved in a potential release,” according to documents.


In affirming that the violations are not considered repeat, as the Secretary of Labor asserted, the appeals court ruled that “substantial evidence” supports the review commission’s finding that there was “no substantial continuity between Wynnewood LLC” and its predecessor of similar name, Wynnewood Inc.


In its ruling, the appeals court noted in part that the review commission “did indicate that the working conditions under Wynnewood Inc. and Wynnewood LLC were ‘the same’” yet the commission “also emphasized Wynnewood LLC’s safety-related changes at the refinery and, as discussed, those changes were initiated by… executives.”


The review commission “credited the ‘more formalized training programs,’ the ‘$130 million in equipment upgrades,’ and the ‘safety culture shift at the refinery’” as the result of new ownership, according to documents.


One appellate judge dissented, writing that because the “boiler itself” contained no highly hazardous chemicals, “I would vacate the eleven violations involving the boiler.” The judge also agreed with the Department of Labor’s “applicability of heightened penalties for repeat violations,” writing that the commission and the appeals court “misapplied” several legal factors regarding continuity of workplace practices and that the one citation unrelated to the boiler should fall under that of repeat.

In part, he wrote that the decision “doesn’t consider whether the employees of the new entity acted differently than they had in the past. This factor instead focuses on whether the employees addressing safety were the same in both the old and new entities.” 










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