Safety advocate: Latest Gulf tragedy should be a “wake up call” for oil & gas industry

November 19, 2012
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refinery fireA search-and-rescue-dog will be brought in today to assist searchers who are still trying to find a worker missing in the Gulf of Mexico after a fire and explosion on an oil platform last week.

One worker was killed in the blaze, which reportedly began while workers were using a torch to cut an oil line. Four other workers suffered burns and remain hospitalized. One of the injured men has improved and is now listed in fair condition. Two victims remain in critical condition and one is in serious condition, doctors said.

Black Elk Energy of Houston, the owner of the platform, said in a statement that it has expanded its search for the missing worker, with three dive boats and Plaquemines Parish sheriff’s deputies searching the waters around the charred platform and nearby beaches.

Tom O’Connor, Executive Director, National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, said the tragedy should be a “wake up call” for the oil and gas industry, which he claims values production over safety.

O’Connor said that in a number of catastrophic incidents like the BP’s refinery explosion in Texas City and Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and Chevron’s refinery fire in Richmond, Calif., workers were aware of hazards, but were discouraged from reporting them.

“Too often, managers are rewarded on the basis of production alone, at the expense of necessary protections for worker safety,” he said.

O’Connor urged the industry to “take all necessary measures to ensure that workers are encouraged to report safety hazards, and that no one is disciplined for expressing their concerns about safety on the job.”

He also said U.S. regulators should adopt the approach taken by the UK and Norway in which oil producers are required to prepare detailed analyses and plans prior to obtaining drilling permits.

Burn victim Wilberto Llagan, 50, hospitalized in the Baton Rouge General Medical Center’s burn unit issued his own news release on Sunday.

"To my relatives, to my family, and to my country, I am alive and in good health," Ilagan said. "I am burned, but my heart and lungs are healthy."

The workers killed and injured in the incident, all Phillipine nationals, were employees of Grand Isle Shipyard, a contractor.

Black Elk claims that no oil is leaking from the severely damaged platform, which hadn't been in operation since August.

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