One of the triggers for higher gas prices is the lack of supply because of refinery disruptions that cause temporary shutdowns or curtailment of production.

From Jan. 1 through Aug. 13 there were at least 240 power failures leaks fires breakdowns chemical releases electrical failures explosions spills and unplanned maintenance at the country’s refineries.

Another reason is that more refiners than usual are undergoing turnarounds this year shutting down facilities checking equipment and infrastructure and doing needed repair work.

Skilled oil workers and negotiated health and safety programs are keys to ensuring a steady supply of gasoline and keeping gas prices low.

As a former oil worker I understand firsthand how important it is to have a skilled work force and equal authority and responsibility with management to develop and maintain effective health and safety programs.

My union the United Steelworkers is finding that the oil companies must be made accountable for following the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s process safety management standard. If the refiners want to protect their work force and the communities surrounding their plants then they need to stop minimizing the standard and start treating it as a minimum requirement.

In June the United Steelworkers and BP put into play a 10-point joint health and safety initiative based in part on the findings of the BP U.S. Refineries Independent Safety Review Panel the preliminary reports of the Chemical Safety Board BP’s own investigations and the United Steelworkers’ experience.

The initiative sets up joint process-safety teams; a joint program for accident and near-miss investigations and for reviewing safe operating procedures; upgraded safety-education programs; standards for staffing hours of work and maintenance; and a committee for implementing and overseeing the initiative. BP will also work with the union and appropriate community officials and organizations to ensure the company is a good environmental neighbor.

We made progress at the summit. Rank-and-file workers and management from each of BP’s facilities made plans and set a timetable to hire more maintenance and operations employees re-establish the chief operator position at locations that don’t have one and put new training programs into place.

We urge the rest of the oil industry to work with the United Steelworkers to improve health and safety so there are fewer deaths and injuries and disruptions to the supply of gasoline.

Gary Beevers of Port Arthur is international vice president of the United Steelworkers leading the union’s national oil bargaining program which covers 30000 workers.

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