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Baton Rouge ExxonMobil Fire Caused by Safety Deficiencies

Posted By Arnold & Itkin || 21-Sep-2017

Last November, our blog reported on an explosion at the ExxonMobil plant in Baton Rouge that injured at least 5 workers. In the days following, it was learned that 6 workers total were injured—four of them with “severe” burns all over their bodies. OSHA eventually levied fines totaling $165,000 against the petroleum giant. Now that the Chemical Safety Board has finished their investigation, it was determined that ExxonMobil’s unsafe practices were to blame for the injuries of their workers.

Specifically, the report found that the factors leading to the accident included:

  • Old, unreliable equipment
  • Lack of written procedures
  • Lack of training
  • Other safety deficiencies

Here’s what happened:

A worker was trying to remove a gearbox during routine maintenance and repair when the valve “came apart,” which released 2,000 pounds of isobutane into the air. Within 30 seconds, the cloud of fuel ignited because a welding machine was sitting only 70 feet away. The explosion left 4 workers with severe (and potentially lifelong) burn injuries.

The Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board concluded that if ExxonMobil simply replaced the old valves on that one piece of machinery (as they did for virtually all of their other machines), then the accident would have never happened. Vanessa Allen Sutherland, Chair of the CSB, put it this way: “Our investigation found that these accepted practices were conducted without appropriate safety hazard analysis, needlessly injuring these workers.”

However, the CSB is an investigative body, not an enforcement one. They don’t punish wrongdoers—they just find out what happened and make safety recommendations.

OSHA (who is a safety enforcer) is already facing a fight from ExxonMobil. The corporate titan still plans on contesting the $165,000 in fines they received as a result of the explosion. For some perspective, $165,000 is about how much a burn victim would expect to pay for treatment and recovery. For even more perspective, ExxonMobil’s earnings from Q4 of 2016 totaled $3.7 billion.

The Price of a Burn Injury

If we’re going to talk about costs and money, let’s talk about the costs the injured workers are facing. Burn injuries are the single most costly injury any emergency room will treat. Worldwide, burn injuries required the most surgeries, the most supervision, the most expensive specialists, and the longest hospital stays of any injury treated by a hospital.

Overall, it costs between $100,000 and $1 million to treat severe burns, depending on how widespread they are or how much reconstructive surgery a patient requires. Part of the costliness of a burn injury comes from the high chance for complications. Burn injuries, because they destabilize the skin, can create further injuries after the initial incident.

Complications include:

  • Disfigurement
  • Psychological trauma
  • Degradation of the skin
  • Infections
  • Organ failure
  • Skin graft failure

If ExxonMobil wants to make this right, they would take the legal fees they’re spending on fighting a (relatively small) fine and spend it on the health and well-being of their injured workers.

Client's portion of total recovery may be subject to Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement claims, Medicare/Medicaid liens or other third-party claims or liens. These verdicts and settlements are intended to be representative of cases handled by Arnold & Itkin, LLP. These listings are not a guarantee or prediction of the outcome of any other claims.

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