BP fined $2.4M for refinery safety problems
Federal officials say unsafe operations at a refinery in Ohio are similar to those found during an investigation into the explosion at BP's Texas City refinery.

ATLANTA (CNN) - Federal officials fined BP Products North America Inc. more than $2.4 million Tuesday for what it said were unsafe operations at a company refinery in Ohio, and compared flaws there to deficiencies that were implicated after another of the company's refineries exploded last year, killing 15 people.

The Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration said it found violations at the Oregon, Ohio, plant similar to those found during an investigation into the March 23, 2005, explosion at BP's refinery in Texas City, Texas. In addition to the fatalities, more than 170 people were injured.

"It is extremely disappointing that BP Products failed to learn from the lessons of Texas City to assure their workers' safety and health," said Edwin Foulke Jr., OSHA assistant secretary. "Our Enhanced Enforcement Program exists for companies like this who, despite our enforcement and outreach efforts, ignore their obligations under the law and continually place their employees at risk."

After the fire, OSHA inspected the company's Ohio refinery and uncovered 32 "willful citations," which resulted in penalties of more than $2.2 million.

Among the reported problems: BP was "locating people in vulnerable buildings among the processing units; failing to correct de-pressurization deficiencies; failing to correct deficiencies with gas monitors; and failing to prevent the use of non-approved electrical equipment in locations in which hazardous concentrations of flammable gases or vapors may exist," the agency said in a written statement.

BP was fined $140,000 more for two "willful violations" in which it failed to "develop shutdown procedures and designate responsibilities, and failed to establish a system to promptly address and resolve recommendations made after an incident when a large feed pump failed. Three years later those recommendations had still not been implemented."

And the company was further penalized $35,000 for five other "serious violations," OSHA's statement said.

Spokesman Ronnie Chappell said the company is "disappointed by today's action. We disagree with the substance and characterization of the alleged violations and we will be seeking an informal settlement conference with the agency to resolve these differences."

He said the company began corrective action last fall, after the OSHA inspection. "Action on most of those issues is completed and progress on the others continues," he said.

He said the incidence of injuries requiring any of the site's 500 workers to miss a day of work has been cut by more than 50 percent over the past decade, and there has not been a fatality at the refinery since 1995.

BP Products North America has 15 working days to contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Last year, OSHA fined BP $21 million -- its biggest penalty in its 35-year history -- for deficiencies implicated in the Texas refinery fire.

Tuesday's fine is among the top 15 the agency has ever issued, said OSHA spokeswoman Kate Dugan.

She acknowledged that it might be lowered. "We want to get abatement; we want the hazards to be fixed; litigation is lengthy and costly. If we can come to an agreement, then sometimes OSHA will, in fact, lower the penalty."

She called the violations in Ohio "egregious." Though she described the potential hazards as "explosion hazards," she said the plant's workers were not in "imminent danger."

"An imminent danger, basically, is an unfilled trench that is about to collapse. But they need to correct these hazards," she said.

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