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Petroleum workers could face loosened safety regulations

Georgia workers in the petroleum industry could be at even greater risk for workplace injuries and accidents, especially as an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard has been classified as excessively vague. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission slashed fines and citations against one BP refinery for violations of federal safety rules. The refinery was accused of violating Process Safety Management rules for the handling of highly hazardous chemicals, with 65 individual citation items enclosed in one larger citation for the overall practice at the workplace.

However, on appeal, all but five of the citations were dismissed. The company was initially fined $2,870,000 for workplace safety violations, but that sum was reduced to $35,000, an almost nominal amount. While OSHA appealed the decision, the commission upheld the appeal judge's decision. In 2007, OSHA began systematically inspecting refineries on the basis of the Process Safety Management rules as part of a national emphasis program.

The standard used in many OSHA citations and referred to in the BP case requires companies to use "recognized and generally accepted good engineering principles." This term was not defined by OSHA in the text. The review commission said that companies can argue that their practices meet the standard if they can show that the refineries engaged in a process to reach their conclusions about how to handle dangerous chemicals or prevent fires and explosions. If a refinery fails to document the process used, it could still be vulnerable to OSHA citations.

Workers in petroleum refineries could be at serious risk if toxic chemicals are handled unsafely or if company practices lead to a fire or explosion. Employees who have been injured at an unsafe workplace might benefit from consulting with a workers' compensation lawyer. An attorney might protect injured workers' rights and help them receive compensation after a workplace injury.

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