A Sunoco spokesperson stated to Hydrocarbon Processing that the workers were either preparing to weld or welding a pipe to a new crude storage tank.
But what do we know?
We know, that a spark ignited some hydrocarbon vapors in and around the workers resulting in a flash fire, which critically injured four of seven contract workers on the particular job. We also know, that the other workers on the job suffered minor injuries, and that the critical injured were transported to different Texas burn centers.
Unfortunately Hydrocarbon Processing was not sufficiently concerned about the status of the critically injured workers to provide an update on their condition in the story distributed yesterday - four days after the fire. However, local officials talking to media on Saturday morning didn't have updates on the status of the critically injured either.
And what do we not know?
We also know that local sheriff's offfice issued the following statement: "We would like to reassure the public that there was no danger to residents who live near the plant.". I would say that statement is wrong because, when the fire started it could have spread to nearby crude storage tanks and resulted in a crude storage tank fire. So because the fire was quickly controlled, then there was no danger to the public.
Could we have avoided this event?
Properly were easily by monitoring the perimeter of areas with workers with hydrocarbon detectors or just having the workers wear hydrocarbon detectors. Such detectors could properly have warned the workers sufficiently to result in lessor injuries.
This flash fire is an example of not paying attention to the process around you when working in refinery or chemical plant, and it is in my view the responsibility of facility management to ensure, that all workers both employees and contractor employees focus on process safety - and not just personal safety.
As always is comes down to cost and who pays. Who pays for hydrocarbon detectors for contractor employees? The contractor? or the company hiring the contractor? Who has most at risk? Clearly the company hiring the contractor. Who pays for the treatment of the injured workers at the burn centers? Texas taxpayers? Or the company hosting the incident?