Corrected: US union breaks off site-safety talks with oil industry

04 August 2009 17:15  [Source: ICIS news]

Talks break down on plant safetyCorrection: In the ICIS news story headlined "US union breaks off site-safety talks with oil industry" dated 4 August 2009, please read in the 13th paragraph … was reviewed by the ANSI,… instead of … was reviewed by the ANSI and the CSB,…. A corrected story follows.

HOUSTON (ICIS news)--A union representing US refinery workers withdrew from site-safety talks with the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the oil industry, with each side accusing the other on Tuesday of putting their own agenda ahead of worker safety.

The United Steelworkers (USW) union and the oil industry started the talks after the 2005 explosion at the BP refinery in Texas City, Texas, following up on recommendations made by the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB). The board issues recommendation on chemical-plant safety.

The talks centred on developing two new standards under the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) that would address process-safety-performance indicators and fatigue.

The API said work will continue without the union, and the two standards should be issued later in the year.

The USW took issue with the talks, saying that they had a preponderance of representation from the oil industry, which had 22 votes versus three union votes.

The union said the industry to publicly report all safety failures, not just major ones, it said. Moreover, the industry would not limit the number of consecutive days that employees could work before taking time off, according to the union.

The two sides could not agree with how the industry should fill open positions at refineries, the union said. The USW wants to limit the number of open positions filled by using existing employees working overtime.

“Haven’t the API and industry learned anything from the 2005 BP Texas City fire and explosion?” said USW International vice president Gary Beevers. “Fatigue was a major contributor in that catastrophic event. How many more Texas City-like disasters have to occur before the industry learns it has to get serious about worker fatigue?”

He added: "After months of very little progress, we found the API and the industry did not understand the meaning of consensus.”

The API said that the committees developing the rules included representatives from government, engineering, construction and academia as well as from the union. In fact, the USW was asked to provide more representatives to the committee, the API said.

In addition, the topic of open positions should be decided on a site-by-site basis and not under a one-size-fits-all limit imposed across the industry, the API said.

"The consensus of the committee is that open-shift targets should be set at the site level and then progress made towards the targets is to be reviewed annually with key stakeholders, including representatives of the workforce," the API said. " Unfortunately, the USW is attempting to undermine a process aimed at improving worker safety."

The process used to develop the standards was reviewed by the ANSI, the trade group said. There had been no indications of any deficiencies in the way the process was being managed.

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By: Al Greenwood
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