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A refinery is an industrial facility that processes raw materials, converting them into products of value. There are many different types of refineries:
- Oil refineries – converts crude oil into various fuels and gases
- Natural gas processing plants - converts natural gas into residential, industrial, and commercial fuel gas
- Metal refineries – refines metals like gold, copper, silver, uranium, zinc, alumina, lead, and cobalt
- Sugar refineries – converts sugar beets and sugar cane into sugar
- Salt refineries – purifies salt produced by the sea
- Vegetable oil refineries - transforms vegetable oil into fuel
- Chemical plants are also processing facilities that transform chemicals into new products. Although refineries and chemical plants were designed to create useful materials, they also pose a hazardous threat to employees and residents who live near the plants. The highest safety standards must be met to prevent potential accidents and devastating incidents. Accidents, injuries, and explosions can be due to several various reasons.
Since the time refineries and chemical plants have been in operation, serious accidents have occurred, forcing trends to be improved concerning occupational safety. Although refineries and chemical plants have been around since the early 1800’s, it wasn’t until 1970 when Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act. It primarily focused on ensuring that employers provided their employees with safety from hazards including toxic chemical exposure, mechanical dangers, excessive noise levels, unsanitary conditions, and stress from the heat or the cold.
The most common ones are as follows:
- Gas leaks
- Human error
- Unsafe working conditions
- Falling objects
- Toxic chemical exposure
- Malfunctioning equipment
- Inadequate training of workers
- Poorly maintained equipment
Many accidents and explosions could be prevented if facilities followed through with proper safety procedures. In several past incidences, companies had been warned beforehand to repair faulty equipment or corroded pipelines but failed to do so. Working at refineries and chemical plants are naturally hazardous. They pose higher chances of serious injury or death than other workplaces. There are many serious consequences in which employees are at risk when working for such facilities:
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Burns are some of the most common injuries that can occur at oil refineries. Fires can erupt for various reasons including gas leaks and faulty equipment. If employees are near the fire when it occurs, or cannot escape from the facility in time, they can become victims of burns. Burns can damage the body and cause painful injury that result in hospitalization, destruction of muscles and/or skin, loss of work, disability, or death.
Illness or Injuries from Chemical Exposure
Refinery and plant employees are exposed to many chemicals including sulfuric acid, chlorine, sulfur dioxide, and hydrofluoric acid which can result in illnesses or personal injuries. Acute toxic chemicals cause damage in a short period of time after exposure. Some of these chemicals, depending on their level of toxicity, can cause irritations, burns, inflammation, collapse, shock, or even death. A chronic toxic chemical can produce effects that are long term.
The toxicity accumulates after being exposed to low doses, repeatedly. In addition to reproductive and behavioral problems, chronic toxic chemical exposure can cause fatal illnesses that sometimes do not appear for 20 years. There are three different ways that toxic chemicals can enter into the body. Inhalation is the most common and can result in damage to the mucous membranes of the lungs, throat, and mouth. If the chemical passes through the lungs and into the circulatory system, it can produce systemic poisoning. Ingestion is another way that chemicals can enter the body.
Chemicals can be ingested by eating contaminated food, swallowing chemicals that have been inhaled, or smoking cigarettes that are contaminated with chemicals. Once something is ingested, it absorbs immediately into the bloodstream. Ingested chemicals can result in systemic poisoning or injury to the throat, mouth, and digestive tract. Skin is the third way a chemical can afflict the body. Chemical exposure to the skin can cause burns, inflammation, blisters, or permanent skin damage.
Injuries from Explosions
In addition to extensive burns, explosions can cause many other severe injuries including traumatic brain injury, nerve damage, crush injuries, and shockwave injuries. Also, an initial blast can cause immediate death to employees who might happen to be too close to the explosion site. The devastation that is left behind from accidents and explosions may result in physical, mental, and emotional pain.
In many, instant death may occur, leaving family members in tragic mourning, forced to fend for themselves financially. Refineries and chemical plants cannot ignore the possibilities of disasters that may occur due to the company’s negligence. Safety standards have to be met without hesitation and employers need to ensure that their employees can trust them to make decisions that will keep them safe.
Recommended Additional Reading
- The 4 Main Causes of Accidents in a Chemical Plant - What are the most common causes of chemical plant accidents? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the four most common causes of these types of accidents are human error, improper training, manufacturing defects, and improper maintenance.
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