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Exxon faulted for plant blast that injured four workers

It's a story that seems to be repeated over and over. Federal investigators are reporting that a refinery blast last year that left four workers injured could have been prevented if the oil company they were working for had paid more attention to safety. The company in the crosshairs is Irving-based Exxon Mobil Corp.

According to the charges issued by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board and reported by the Houston Business Journal, Exxon Mobil came up short on a variety of safety management points and that led to the explosion in February in Torrance, California. Besides the injuries to the four contract workers, the blast destroyed a good part of the refinery and sent up a plume of ash that covered homes and cars within a mile of the facility.

As bad as it was the CSB says things could have been worse. Investigators say shrapnel from the explosion narrowly missed a tank holding thousands of pounds of a form of hydrofluoric acid. If that had rupture, officials say it could have caused catastrophic injury or even death.

CSB investigators say the explosion was the result of a number of occurrences over the course of several days. One piece of equipment at the plant had been idled on Feb. 12 because of problems. Steps were taken to isolate the unit from the rest of production and repair work was started, but some of them had to be reversed in order for the work to continue.

As a result of those reversals, hydrocarbons managed to seep into the area where the work was being conducted. They ignited and the unit exploded.

The CSB says Exxon deviated from the safety procedures that were called for. It also says that Exxon failed to do an adequate assessment of the risks. If it had done a better analysis, proper safeguards could have been used that would have prevented the blast.

Exxon disputes the findings and is appealing a $566,000 fine imposed by California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

How the injured workers fared through all of this is not reported.

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