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California industrial accident highlights company's safety policy

A serious work accident and an employee's subsequent treatment upon returning to work have placed the spotlight on a Phillips 66 oil refinery in California. The man was seriously injured when he and another coworker were trying to clear a sulfur plug on a unit exchanger. When the man turned the steam control valve on, he was hit in the face with steam and molten sulfur. His hands and head also suffered serious burns. The industrial accident ended with the man suffering third degree burns and an eight-week recovery period.

Since that time, the safety policies of the company have been questioned. Safety professionals inside of the plant believe the company has decreased the amount of safety and training equipment upgrades that once won them national recognition. The safety department appears to be considered by some as a drain on the company's bottom line.

A spokesman for Phillips 66 has denied the accusations and stated they believe safety is one of the most important aspects. The man injured in the industrial accident believes the safety team saved him from receiving possible permanent damages. However, he believes the company's work polices could be partly responsible for his accident. The man stated two days prior to the accident, he received a last minute schedule change to pull the night shift, even though he was a day-shift worker. The change resulted in almost no sleep before reporting back to work the next day.

In the past, the plant had received high accolades for its safety and received numerous awards, but the plant is now considering downsizing the number of health and safety shift specialists, which some believe could increase the number of accidents on the job. The company is also requesting to increase its overall output, potentially placing even more stress on workers. California plant employees support the plan, but only if management changes their safety policies to meet the demands of the increased workload. When a worker suffers an industrial accident on the job due to safety issues or fatigue due to work hours, they may qualify for workers' compensation. Such an injury could result in time off for their recovery, and the benefits paid will often help take care of medical bills and lost wages.

Source: New Times, "Re(de)fining safety," Matt Fountain, Dec. 13, 2012

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