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
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.
- Psychological trauma
- Degradation of the skin
- 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.