WYNNEWOOD — The operators of a southern Oklahoma refinery repeatedly broke workplace safety rules and now face $281,000 in fines following a boiler explosion last year that killed two workers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has announced.
Many of the most serious citations involve repeated violations surrounding the engineering and hazardous use of a large boiler that exploded at the Wynnewood Refining Co. on Sept. 28, killing operators Billy Smith, 34, and Russell Mann, 45.
The company had been cited for many of the same violations following another boiler explosion in 2008.
“Failure to implement effectively OSHA's process safety management regulations, which protects employees from potential hazards at high-risk facilities ... will not be tolerated,” said David Bates, director of the agency's Oklahoma City-area office, which conducted the investigation. “If OSHA's standards had been followed, it is possible this tragedy could have been avoided.”
The September explosion caused some in the Garvin County town of about 2,500 residents to voice concerns about the refinery's new owner, a lax culture of safety and whether some of the 265 or so workers were reluctant to complain for fear of losing their good-paying jobs or seeing the 90-year-old refinery that serves as the town's lifeblood close.
The company has 15 business days to comply with or contest the citations.
A spokeswoman for CVR Energy Inc., the Sugar Land, Texas-based company that owns the Wynnewood refinery, issued a news release that said the company is reviewing OSHA's findings and working to address the agency's concerns.
The company statement noted that many of OSHA's findings were consistent with an internal investigation the company shared with OSHA in December that identified the cause of the explosion as a combination of human error and inconsistencies in procedures and training.
Family members respond to action
Kari Smith, widow of Billy Smith, disagreed, saying the OSHA and company reports aren't as consistent as CVR contends.
Because of the serious nature of the hazards, OSHA placed the company in a program that focuses on “recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure to abate violations.”
“They made big mistakes and they just really don't want that out there,” said Kari Smith, of Pauls Valley. “My husband's gone because of it.”
Russell Mann's widow expressed anger that many of the problems with the boiler that OSHA cited in 2008 were never fixed.
“Five years later, it caused two deaths,” LeeAnna Mann said.
Both widows believe the OSHA fine was too low.
“If they appeal and get it lowered then it's going to be even less,” Mann said. “That's sad. Just sad.”
Beverly Badgley, the mother of Billy Smith, said both she and another son are satisfied with the report's findings.
“We have what we wanted,” she wrote in an email. “God has taken it into his hands, smitten the refinery through OSHA and allowed Billy's death to count for something. What more can a mother and brother want?”
Wynnewood Mayor Mike Perry said he doesn't foresee the OSHA penalties causing any long-term problems for the refinery or the town.
“I think they can well afford the fine,” Perry said. “I don't think it will shut them down or anything.”