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Process Safety and Hazards
Negligence, Strict Liability, Products Liability
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PROCESS SAFETY and HAZARDS
Safety in process plants such as oil refineries, petrochemical complexes, and chemical plants is a complex and serious issue. There are many regulations and laws that govern process safety. The common law may apply, or common law may be modified by statute depending on the jurisdiction. These may include legal actions such as personal injury, wrongful death, negligence, strict liability, nuisance, trespass, conversion, and others.
Local, state, and federal regulations also apply to process plants. As an example, the Clean Air Act, Section 112 may apply, depending on the chemicals processed in the plant. OSHA regulations also apply, at the federal and state levels. OSHA is the Occupational Safety and Health Act. EPA regulations at both the federal and state level may apply.
When an unsafe incident occurs in a process plant, more than one law may be violated. The owners and operators of the process plant may have defenses to a legal action. It is always recommended that the owner or operator contact an attorney immediately or as soon as safely practicable after an unsafe incident occurs.
Proper planning and good operating practices are crucial to maintaining a safe process plant. However, in the event that an unsafe incident occurs, the actions taken afterward can be very important in later legal actions.
Refineries and chemical plants routinely process substances that are flammable, potentially explosive, corrosive, toxic, that may cause thermal burns due to high heat, and may be under intense pressure, among other things. Sometimes these conditions exist simultaneously. Furthermore, the process plants themselves may be subjected to destabilizing forces, including floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes, depending on their location.
The well-publicized incidents where refineries and chemical plants experience leaks, fires, explosions, and other unplanned events have legal ramifications for owners, operators, contractors, vendors, designers, neighbors, and many other persons. The 2005 explosion in Texas City, Texas, at BP's oil refinery is but one example. The 2008 explosion in a sugar refinery near Savannah, Georgia, is another. The 2008 explosion in Big Spring, Texas, at Alon's oil refinery is another. In each of these incidents, people either died and/or were seriously injured.
An attorney should be consulted before dealing with the media, opposing counsel, insurance companies, and the various investigative agencies that will soon become involved. Knowing what to do and what to say is crucial to the future.