BP Refinery Accident Pinned on Equipment, Staffing

Faulty equipment and staff reductions contributed to an accident at BP's Texas City refinery last year, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board finds in a preliminary report. Fifteen people were killed, and another 100 injured, making it the nation's worst industrial accident in over a decade.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Our business news starts with the cause of a fatal accident in the workplace.

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A federal safety board says cost-cutting and faulty equipment contributed to an accident at a BP refinery in Texas last year that killed 15 people.

NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.

FRANK LANGFITT: BP's Texas City refinery was starting up a unit last year when a tower erupted like a geyser, raining down a highly flammable liquid. The subsequent explosion not only killed 15 workers, but injured 180 others. It was the nation's worst industrial accident in more than a decade.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board says the tower overflowed after a measuring device failed to show the liquid was building up to dangerous levels. Don Holmstrom, the board's lead investigator, says the company knew about the problem beforehand.

Mr. DON HOLMSTROM (Lead Investigator, Chemical Safety Board): They identified that this particular piece of equipment was troublesome, it needed repair, and they intended to repair it after the startup.

LANGFITT: But the explosion occurred before the company fixed it, according to the safety board. BP acknowledges that the accident could have been prevented, but Ronnie Chappell, a company spokesman, insists the equipment was not a factor.

Mr. RONNIE CHAPPELL (Spokesman, BP): And with our own investigation report, we indicated that the equipment that was in place was operating correctly, that it was in good shape.

LANGFITT: In its report, the safety board said staff reductions at the refinery also contributed to the accident.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Washington.

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