Companies Should Be Responsible for Contract Workers (Rep. Gene Green)

In Texas on March 23, 2005, the F-20 blowdown stack of a BP oil refinery's isomerization unit was overheating. The liquid hydrocarbons inside were under increasing pressure, more than the tower's structure was designed to contain. Finally it burst, with no warning to the workers congregated in the area. Some of the liquid vaporized when it was forced out of the stack, and the unit was engulfed in an oily haze.

What happened next isn't completely understood, but the best guess is the heavier-than-air vapor floated toward the ground until it came into contact with the idling engine of a nearby vehicle. The resulting explosion shook homes five miles distant. Three blocks away, people were thrown to the ground. Closer to ground zero, 15 workers were killed and more than 170 were injured.

Temporary work trailers occupied by contract workers had been placed too near the isomerization unit, increasing the number of casualties. The 15 dead were not BP employees; they were contracted through another company. Though contract employees in the energy industry often work side-by-side with other employees for decades, they are not counted as employees of the company that owns their work site. Their injuries are not counted against the owners of the site.

H.R. 141 would right this wrong. It would require employers to report injuries or deaths regardless of whether the worker is a direct employee of the company or a contract worker.

I ask the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections to take up H.R. 141 and send it to the floor either on its own or as part of a larger piece of legislation. An accident can be horrific, but if we lose the capability to learn from our accidents, the horror is compounded by tragedy.