Article Archive
CSB video details 2005 Texas City blast
Volume 23, No. 3

Three years after the explosion that killed 15 workers and injured 180 others at an oil refinery in Texas City, TX, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) released a new, comprehensive safety video that describes the causes of the accident and key safety lessons.

The new 56-minute video, Anatomy of a Disaster, is available for viewing in the Video Room of the CSB's website, DVDs of the video will be provided at no charge through the online request form at

The accident occurred on March 23, 2005, during the startup of the refinery's octane-boosting isomerization unit, when a distillation tower and attached blowdown drum were overfilled with flammable liquid hydrocarbons. Because the blowdown drum vented directly to the atmosphere, there was a geyser-like release of flammable liquid, forming a vapor cloud that spread rapidly through the area. A diesel pickup truck that was idling nearby ignited the vapor, initiating a series of explosions and fires that swept through the unit and the surrounding area. Fatalities and injuries occurred in and around occupied work trailers, which were placed too close to the isomerization unit and which were not evacuated prior to the startup.

The safety video includes a new nine-minute 3-D computer animation of the sequence of events that led to the explosion, as well as sections describing BP's safety culture, the human factor safety issues that contributed to the accident, and the importance of safe equipment design and trailer siting.

The video also features interviews with key members of the CSB investigative team, who completed the 341-page public report on the causes of the accident approved by the Board. Board Member William Wright discusses safety recommendations from the accident and key safety lessons from the Board's investigation.

Three outside safety experts appear in the video to discuss their views of the long-term significance of the accident in Texas City. Prof. Trevor Kletz of Texas A&M University and Prof. Andrew Hopkins of the Australian National University explain the distinction between personal and process safety; the importance of reporting and investigating near-misses; and the need for modern, inherently safe equipment designs to prevent accidents. Mr. Glenn Erwin, a safety official with the United Steelworkers, describes his experience as a member of the independent Baker panel that was recommended by the CSB and commissioned by BP to examine the safety culture of its five U.S. refineries.

"We hope the lessons from this accident will be studied for years throughout the world's petrochemical industry," said CSB Chairman John S. Bresland, who accompanied the investigative team to the accident site in March 2005. "The safety video we are releasing today is critical to ensuring that the lessons from this tragedy are readily accessible to businesses and organizations around the world."

"We are encouraged by the progress that has been made in many areas over the past three years - including OSHA's strengthening of process safety enforcement in refineries, and the industry's development of new safe siting guidelines for occupied trailers to prevent worker fatalities and injuries," Mr. Bresland said. "Much work remains to be done to help ensure that the tragedy at BP Texas City never happens again at another site. Industry and labor organizations should collaborate to develop new standards for fatigue prevention and process safety indicators, as the CSB recommended a year ago. BP should continue its work to improve safety performance and avoid additional process-related accidents."

"The CSB looks forward to receiving additional documentation from BP on the status of implementing the recommendations we made to the corporation and the plant one year ago," Chairman Bresland said.

CSB safety videos have been viewed approximately one million times over the Internet since the launch of the program in December 2005. A total of 60,000 DVDs have been distributed to industry and labor groups, government agencies, safety trainers, educators, emergency responders, and individual requesters throughout the world.


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