Millions of barrels of oil per day are processed in the United States utilizing toxic chemicals, high temperatures, and tremendous pressure. This can make for very dangerous conditions. When the proper safety precautions are not followed, the results can be devastating.
The workplace injury attorneys of Dax F. Garza, P.C. have years of experience helping injured workers and their families after devastating on-the-job accidents. Our Houston refinery explosion lawyers have the litigation skills and resources needed to help you recover full compensation.
Who Can be Held Liable in a Houston Refinery Explosion?
A refinery explosion is extremely dangerous for those working inside the facility, outside of the facility, and even those living and working in neighboring homes and businesses. Texas refinery explosions can happen in various places, including:
- Industrial settings
- Storage facilities
- Chemical and processing plants
As a result, liability can be difficult to determine. In some cases, multiple parties may share the responsibility for a refinery explosion:
- Refinery Owners and Operators: Refinery owners and operators have a duty to ensure safe working conditions. If they fail to service equipment or provide job-specific and safety training, for example, refinery owners and operators may be guilty of negligence.
- Manufacturing Company: In some cases, a third party is responsible for a refinery explosion. Heavy machinery and equipment are purchased with the expectation they will work as described. However, a manufacturing or design defect can have serious repercussions. For example, if the safety seal to a volatile chemical is defective, it may expose the substance to combustible fumes in the air and explode. Manufacturers can be held responsible for their defective equipment or machinery.
- Safety Inspectors: Safety inspectors have an enormous responsibility. Refineries may have several types of inspectors to ensure equipment, chemicals, and overall facilities are in good working order. If a safety inspector fails to notice or report a problem, it can worsen over time and cause a major refinery explosion.
Critical evidence is needed to accurately assess liability in a refinery explosion. Due to the circumstances of the event, it is very difficult to find evidence that has not been destroyed by fire, smoke, and/or water damage. An experienced Houston refinery explosion lawyer will know how to assess the situation and recover the critical evidence you need to prove negligence.
What Can Cause a Refinery Explosion in Houston?
Unfortunately, too often, refinery explosions can be traced to the reluctance of management to invest in the replacement, maintenance, or repair of defective equipment. This was the cause of the 2005 Texas City BP refinery explosion. Faulty, corroded pipes failed and released flammable vapors into the air.
Employers and refinery owners are required by federal law to inspect and maintain tanks, containers, and other equipment on a regular basis. They are also required to provide safe and up-to-code containers for flammable liquids and to inspect them for leaks. Despite the majority of facilities having numerous safety protocols in place as required by state and federal law, the following are the most common causes of refinery explosions:
The inadequate training of employees is responsible for numerous preventable industrial accidents in refineries every year. While it may be tempting for companies to save time and money by forgoing safety training, refinery workers require rigorous training in their assumed duties. They also need intense training in safety and emergency protocols.
Employers have a duty to ensure the safety of their staff by making certain they are properly trained and equipped to carry out their work responsibilities. This means employers and other parties that own and operate refining facilities should provide all employees:
- Detailed training in preventative and emergency safety protocols
- Job specific training
- Safety signs throughout the facility in multiple languages
Providing proper training also applies to any contractors on the worksite. It is crucial that all workers within a facility understand their safety and job requirements fully.
Failing to Provide Safety Equipment
Failing to provide safety equipment is another misstep employers make that causes direct harm to their workers. Safety equipment can include personal protective equipment for employees, such as:
- Eye protection
- Job-specific gloves (e.g., welding gloves, PVC gloves)
- Headgear (e.g., welding helmets, hard hats)
- Flame-resistant wear
- Safeguarding equipment and materials
- Tool lanyards
- Holsters and belts
- Steel-toed boots
In addition, employers and refinery owners must keep the premises safe. Employers are required to install adequate fire suppression systems throughout a refinery. The facilities are known for their highly volatile nature. A comprehensive security system is needed to alert everyone in the area in the event of a gas or chemical leak. Sensitive safety equipment can give fair warning if an issue arises. Due to the sensitive nature of the chemicals and materials involved in refinery work, it is crucial they are properly stored to reduce the exposure that could result in a fire or cause other serious injuries.
Misused or Impure Chemicals
Misuse of chemicals or the use of dirty or impure chemicals and materials can easily lead to deadly combustion, resulting in a refinery fire or explosion. Without proper job-specific training, workers can misuse natural gas, benzene, or other highly flammable liquids.
Employees rely on quality education and proper storage to ensure all chemicals and gases are kept secure. If this does not happen, the items are at risk of violently interacting with one another and seriously injuring or killing the workers who handle them or are otherwise exposed to them.
Improper Maintenance or Lack of Inspections
Failing to conduct routine maintenance and inspection of facilities puts everyone on a worksite in immediate danger. Personal protective gear and equipment have limitations. Even if all safety protocols are followed, workers can suffer catastrophic injuries from malfunctioning equipment and heavy machinery. Many employees can be caught in the moving parts of heavy machinery, suffering various crush injuries and amputations.
Maintenance and safety inspections are costly. Safety checks can slow down production, affecting deadlines. When a problem is found, performing the necessary repairs, adjustments, or replacements can shut down production for hours or days. If a major issue is found, the facility may need to be shut down for a brief period.
When a refinery chooses to forego or postpone routine maintenance checks or inspections, everyone in the facility is put at risk. Heavy machinery, equipment, safety gear, and the facility itself should be inspected regularly to prevent a major disaster. Something as simple as a bad valve can cause a catastrophic refinery explosion if not repaired or replaced. While this is a cost to employers, the price paid by work accident victims as a result far outweighs the potential lost workdays and revenue.
Common Houston Refinery Explosion Injuries
Refinery explosions are deadly. Survivors often suffer life-threatening and catastrophic injuries. Others are killed instantly or die after horrible pain and suffering. The injured often require extensive and perpetual medical care. Some of the most common Houston refinery explosion accident injuries our lawyers see include:
Amputations and Loss of Limb
Refinery explosions involve a series of destructive forces that can cause cataclysmic injuries. First, the reacting chemicals cause a shockwave, destabilizing walls and throwing machinery, equipment, and workers. The limbs of those on the jobsite can be severed by high-velocity debris.
In other cases, limbs can be crushed under fallen walls, machines, and other debris. When the flow of oxygen in the blood is cut off, muscle tissue will begin to die in a short amount of time. Necrotizing, or dying, tissue will release proteins that act as toxins in the bloodstream. If too many toxins build and the flow of blood is restored, the toxins will rush through the body and damage organs. The heart and the kidneys can fail, creating a chain reaction of organ death. This process is known as crush syndrome. To prevent crush syndrome, a limb may need to be amputated to save an injured refinery worker’s life.
After the shockwave, the combustible chemicals will burn for a short, intense period of time. However, refineries are filled with an immense amount of flammable equipment and chemicals. Generally, multiple fires will spring up and burn workers. If an injury victim suffers third and fourth degree burns to their extremities, doctors may need to amputate.
As stated above, refinery explosions often involve multiple fires. Some chemicals may burn hotter and faster. Other materials may burn slowly and for a longer period of time. Workers injured in a refinery explosion may suffer various degrees of burns on their bodies. In severe cases, burns can lead to death.
Burn injury death is often the result of complications. Burns strip the body of its protective layers, exposing a victim to various infections. If the burn injury has damaged the muscle tissue, hurt workers can succumb to shock, organ failure, and respiratory issues.
Survivors of severe burns are often scarred or disfigured for life.
Traumatic Brain Injuries
Traumatic brain injuries are caused predominately by the shockwave in a refinery explosion. Though most medical research has been done on war veterans, the injuries are the same. Shockwaves are pressure blast waves that can severely impact the body. Considered non-blunt traumatic brain injuries, the damage from overpressure can permanently alter the brain. Blood vessels may burst, and membranes can rupture, leading to long-term physical and psychological effects.
Secondary brain damage from a refinery blast is caused by impact injuries. During and immediately following an explosion, machines, tools, and other equipment are thrown into the air. Workers can be struck by flying debris or thrown into objects and walls. Impact traumatic brain injuries may have open wounds, exposing the delicate organ to infection and further injury.
Victims of traumatic brain injuries can suffer from many complications, including fluid buildup in the brain, seizures, or even brain death. In addition, the effects can be short or long-term, resulting in the following:
- Memory, learning, and reasoning problems
- Difficulty understanding speech or writing
- Behavioral changes
- Clinical depression and anxiety
- Sensory problems
- Frequent headaches
- Persistent ringing in ears
- Mood swings and anger
The development of degenerative brain diseases is also common. Many traumatic brain injury sufferers will develop Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. In addition, a severe brain injury can worsen over time, slowly degenerating over years.
Broken Limbs and Fractures
The shock wave of a Houston refinery explosion can be significant. People are often thrown into walls and floors, breaking and fracturing multiple bones. In addition, explosions cause walls, heavy machinery, equipment, and other debris to fall or scatter. Workers can suffer bone injuries from being crushed or struck by flying objects.
Skull fractures can lead to major concussions, brain bleeds, and severe swelling. When the vertebrae are fractured or broken, victims can suffer various degrees of paralysis. Depending on the severity of the spinal cord injury, rehabilitation may take years. In serious cases, the paralysis may be permanent.
Exposure To Toxic Fumes
During and after a refinery explosion, toxic fumes from burning chemicals can envelop the area. Workers who may not have been hurt by the shockwave or fire can suffer major lung damage from breathing in toxic fumes.
Lung damage is unique. Exposure to toxic fumes may present with symptoms immediately or take several years to discover. Lung damage may result in permanent respiratory damage or various other types of lung disease that can permanently impact a worker’s life.
Toxic exposure injuries are not limited to respiratory issues. Victims can develop a wide array of life-threatening and debilitating health conditions including various cancers and neurological disorders.
Internal Organ Damage
Internal organ damage can occur in a number of ways. The shockwave from the blast can over-pressurize organs, causing extensive damage and organ death. The body relies on systems of organs working together. If one organ fails, it can create a chain reaction that slowly shuts down the entire body.
In addition, crush injuries significantly impact organs. Crush syndrome occurs when there is a buildup of toxins in the bloodstream that overwhelms the body. In most cases, victims suffer kidney and heart failure. The kidneys filter out toxins in the bloodstream; however, too many toxins will cause kidney failure. In addition, once the toxins reach the heart, they can cause cardiac arrest.
Contact An Award-Winning Houston Refinery Explosion Lawyer Today
Life in Houston is closely tied to the bustling oil and gas industry. Refineries are responsible for keeping the industry dominant. The safety of Houston refinery workers should be the highest priority.
However, some companies have made risky decisions to protect their bottom line that may put workers in danger. Whether your injuries were caused by the negligence of an employer, refinery owner, or a third party, you deserve financial compensation.
Contact the experienced Houston refinery explosion lawyers of Dax F. Garza, P.C. to discuss the details of your case today. You have a limited time to act.