Personal Injury

Know the causes of chemical plant explosions and accidents

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Some of the most serious workplace accidents in Texas involve chemical plant explosions. In an instant, you or a loved one can sustain a serious, life-altering injury in one of these industrial facilities, including burn injuries, lung damage, broken bones, and serious head injuries, including traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). When that happens, it’s critical that injury victims receive immediate medical care and fully understand their legal rights.

In many cases, injury victims are entitled to financial compensation for their injury expenses. That’s why it’s important to understand why chemical plant accidents happen and what legal options are available to injury victims and their families. Otherwise, you might not get the money you deserve for medical care, replacement income, and other accident-related expenses.

What is a chemical processing plant?

More than 20,000 chemical manufacturing plants employ more than 850,000 people nationwide, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Such industrial facilities cover a wide range. According to the BLS, there are several main types of chemical manufacturing facilities, including:

  • Chemical factories that produce resin, synthetic rubber, and artificial synthetic fibers and filaments.
  • Pesticide, fertilizer, and agricultural chemical manufacturing facilities.
  • Medicine and pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities.
  • Paint, coating, and adhesive manufacturing facilities.
  • Soap, cleaning compound, and toilet preparation manufacturing facilities.

In each case, there are strict safety measures and protocols that must be followed to prevent accidents and injuries from occurring at chemical processing plants. Otherwise, serious injuries or fatalities can occur due to chemical processing plant accidents.

How common are chemical plant explosions?

Chemical plant explosions are some of the most serious industrial accidents. Each year, there are approximately 15 fatalities on average in chemical plants nationwide, according to the BLS. In addition, 1.9 percent of chemical plant workers sustain some sort of injury which requires them to miss work and receive medical care, according to the BLS.

On average, 900 Texas chemical plant workers sustain an injury on the job every year, according to BLS statistics. Of course, those injuries are concentrated in areas that have a lot of chemical plants, such as the Houston area. One study found that there’s a chemical plant explosion every six weeks on average in Houston, according to an in-depth news investigation conducted by the Houston Chronicle.

The worst chemical plant accidents in Texas

The Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigate chemical plant explosions and other accidents at chemical plants nationwide. In recent years, the CSB has investigated the following chemical plant explosions and accidents in Texas:

  • LyondellBasell Fatal Chemical Release in LaPorte, TX on July 27, 2021, resulting in two fatalities and at least 30 injuries due to the release of 100,000 pounds of acetic acid.
  • Wendland 1H Well Fatal Explosion in Burleson County, TX on Jan. 29, 2020, resulting in three fatalities at the gas well operated by Chesapeake Energy.
  • Watson Grinding Fatal Explosion and Fire in Houston, TX on Jan. 24, 2020, resulting in two fatalities and extensive nearby property damage due to the explosion.
  • TPC Group Explosion and Fire in Port Neches, TX on Nov. 27, 2019, which remains under investigation by the CSB.
  • KMCO LLC Fatal Fire and Explosion in Crosby, TX on April 2, 2019, resulting in one fatality and multiple injuries due to a fire and explosion at the chemical processing and chemical manufacturing facility.
  • Intercontinental Terminal Company (ITC) Tank Fire in Deer Park, TX on March 17, 2019, resulting in extensive air pollution and thousands of gallons of hazardous waste spilled into the ground and nearby groundwater.
  • Kuraray America explosion and fire in Pasadena, TX on May 19, 2018, resulting in 21 injuries due to the explosion at the facility which manufactures ethylene vinyl-alcohol copolymers.
  • Sunoco Logistics Partners Flash Fire in Nederland, TX on Aug. 12, 2016, resulting in seven injuries due to a fire at the facility.

Other major chemical plant explosions that have occurred in Texas in recent years include:

  • Celanese Corporation chemical plant explosion in Pasadena, TX on Sept. 21, 2019, which involved a fire in the carbon monoxide unit at the Celanese Clear Lake acetyls facility.
  • Exxon Mobile Olefins Plant explosion in Baytown, TX near Houston on July 31, 2019, resulting in 66 injuries.
  • Baytown complex plant explosion in Baytown, TX near Houston on March 16, 2019, resulting in an extensive fire at the Exxon Mobile facility.
  • Cresson chemical plant explosion in Cresson, TX on March 15, 2018, resulting in one fatality, two injuries, and volatile chemicals being released into the air and water.
  • Arkema chemical plant explosion in Crosby, TX on Aug. 29, 2017, causing hazardous chemicals to be released into the air and water near the plant.

The worst chemical plant explosion in Texas history, and one of the worst industrial accidents of any kind in United States history, was the Phillips Disaster of 1989. On Oct. 23, 1989, in Pasadena, TX, a series of explosions at the Phillips Petroleum Company's Houston Chemical Complex (HCC) facility resulted in 23 fatalities and 314 injuries.

Why do these accidents happen?

The vast majority of injuries and accidents at chemical plants involve explosions. One study found that 42 percent of chemical plant injuries involved explosions, followed by fires or burn-related injures (14 percent), chemical poisoning (13 percent), and slip or fall accidents (8 percent).

So why do these accidents happen? The BLS has identified four common causes of chemical plant accidents:

  • Mistakes made by employees – Specifically, human error or failure to follow safety guidelines or procedures often results in serious injuries. An estimated 74 percent of industrial accidents occur due to human error, according to the BLS.
  • Lack of safety training – Companies have a responsibility to properly train employees on how to safely operate equipment and follow safety guidelines. Unfortunately, some companies don’t properly train chemical plant workers, resulting in serious injuries and industrial accidents.
  • Lack of maintenance – Chemical plant equipment needs to be properly maintained, including cleaning equipment, conducting regular inspections and making immediate repairs after discovering broken, defective, or malfunctioning equipment. However, some companies do not properly maintain chemical plant equipment, resulting in explosions, fires, and other industrial accidents.
  • Manufacturer defects – Chemical plant equipment must be manufactured to precise specifications. If there are any defects, equipment cannot properly function and can cause a chemical plant explosion, fire, or another type of accident.

In many cases, these accidents occur because companies violate OSHA safety rules or regulations. When this happens, a thorough investigation must be conducted to determine why the accident happened and to prevent similar industrial accidents in the future.

However, injury victims should not simply rely on government investigations. Their job is to find out why the accident happened, not to make sure the injured worker gets full compensation. Injured chemical plant workers should consult with an attorney who can conduct a thorough, independent investigation on their behalf to protect their legal rights.

How can a lawyer help with a chemical plant explosion or accident claim?

You might think you don’t need an attorney if you or a loved one was injured in a chemical plant explosion or another type of accident. All you have to do is tell your employer you were hurt at work, and they will take care of everything else. In addition, the accident may already be investigated by the CSB and OSHA.

But it’s important to understand that the CSB and OSHA are simply concerned with determining why a chemical plant accident happened, not whether you’re fairly compensated for your injury-related expenses.

Injury claims involving chemical plant explosions, fires or other types of accidents often turn out to be complicated legal cases. Sometimes, employers can be the problem. They might claim your injury or illness occurred outside of work or that you’re not seriously sick or injured. Other times, it’s insurance companies that deny injury claims for various reasons, including that your injury is a pre-existing medical condition.

You know the truth. You know you got hurt on the job at a chemical plant. As a result, you deserve to be compensated for your medical care, replacement income, and any other financial losses you incurred as a result of your work injury.

Our experienced Texas chemical plant injury attorneys at Tracey Fox & Walters can help. We’re familiar with the state and federal laws that apply to chemical plant injuries and accidents. We know how to investigate such cases, including how to obtain and analyze official accident reports and inspection records from the CSB and OSHA.

When you have our knowledgeable legal team on your side, you can demand the money you deserve. Learn more about your legal rights. Contact our law firm and schedule a free case evaluation with an experienced Texas chemical plant explosion lawyer you can count on in a crisis. We have offices conveniently located in Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio.