Petroleum refiner faces OSHA fines after worker fatality

OSHA has penalized a petroleum refiner and an industrial contractor with $106,080 in fines after a worker in a confined space lost air supply and died from asphyxiation. Workers in Texas may want to know how the two parties were negligent.

According to reports, the Alabama petroleum refiner failed to evaluate all hazards in the confined space and did not document all of the steps that are required to ensure the safety of workers in such spaces. It also failed to conduct periodic evaluations of the industrial contractor to ensure that the latter was fulfilling the obligations laid down by the Process Safety Management standard.

As for the industrial contractor, it did not take steps to ensure that workers outside of the confined space could engage in rescue efforts for the workers inside. OSHA also cited the contractor for failure to provide adequate lighting equipment and for allowing members of the rescue team to engage in other tasks, thus making them unable to respond to emergencies.

The two parties have 15 business days to respond to OSHA's decision. They must do so by agreeing to pay the penalty, by holding an informal conference with the Birmingham OSHA director or by contesting OSHA's findings with the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

In a case like this, the family of the deceased worker may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. In cases where workers are injured, they may be able to file for workers' compensation benefits and be reimbursed for medical expenses and for part of their lost income. Unlike with a personal injury claim, one does not need to prove anyone's negligence to be eligible for workers' comp. However, workers may face opposition from their employer, so victims may wish to hire a lawyer.

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