OSHA investigates string of fires at Sinclair refinery

Aug 29, 2012

Wyoming’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration is investigating a series of fires and explosions at the Sinclair Oil Refinery near Rawlins.

The plant has seen four fires since May, and seven workers have been injured, some critically. The most recent incident was last week.

OSHA Administrator John Ysebaert says investigations are still pending, but they have some preliminary ideas about the problems.

“One of the issues that we have discovered in conjunction with their management is that they had a very high rate of turnover amongst their operators,” Ysebaert said. “And it does take a fair amount of experience to do a lot of the functions within the refinery. So I do believe that that is one of the contributing elements. But I believe there’s a lot more.”

Ysebaert says OSHA will likely issue citations for the incidents where workers were injured, meaning Sinclair would have to pay a fine and take measures to fix the problems. But he says OSHA inspectors have not found evidence of “imminent danger or willful violations,” which are the criteria for shutting down a plant.

“So far, they’ve been the result of mechanical failure,” Ysebaert said. “For instance the one at the end of May, which injured two workers – that was the result of a pump failure. And those things, while they can be managed, they’re not something that the eye can look at and detect. ”

In December, Sinclair received citations for previous fires and explosions, and last week the Environmental Protection Agency fined the company for air quality violations.