Nearly 25 years ago, 23 workers were killed and another 314 injured in a series of explosions in Pasadena, Texas. The Phillips 66 plant, for which the disaster was named, was housed in the Houston Ship Channel area. The plant manufactured highly flammable materials, such as plastic compounds.
During the manufacturing process, flammable gases were released from the facility – this was common practice at the Phillips plant, so what went wrong? After an extensive investigation, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that the safety valves, one for closing and one for opening, had been reversed and therefore did not function properly.
Instead of being expelled from the plant, the flammable gases accumulated inside the plant and came into contact with something that ignited it and consequently set off a series of explosions. The blast was so forceful, it measured 3.5 on the Richter Scale. In other words, it was as strong as if someone set off 2.4 tons of TNT inside the plant. On October 23, 1989, there were six explosions at the plant.
In most major chemical plant accidents such as this, especially when there are fatalities and multiple injuries, are investigated by OSHA. In a detailed report of the accident, OSHA concluded that Phillips 66 plant failed in a number of areas. Major violations included a lack of process hazard analysis (used by employees in industrial occupations to assess potential risks and mitigate them) and inadequate standardized operating procedures. Overall, OSHA slapped Phillips 66 with 566 willful violations and nine additional serious violations.
OSHA also found Fish Engineering and Construction, Inc. partially responsible for the accident. Fish Engineering was a company contracted to conduct maintenance at Phillips plant.
Despite the severity of the Phillips Disaster of 1989, after repairs, Phillips plant was reopened. Today, it employs hundreds of individuals and still manufactures the same types of plastic compounds. Since the 1989 explosion, there have been three other major accidents, two of which resulted in fatalities.
The Phillips Disaster serves to show the devastating consequences of failing to adhere to regulatory guidelines, especially in such a hazard-ridden industry. Texas is home to many manufacturing plants, including many that manufacture and house hazardous chemicals. If you were injured in an industrial or plant accident, contact a Houston personal injury attorney at The Daspit Law Firm to discuss your legal options.