United Steelworkers (USW) vice president Gary Beevers, who heads the union's oil sector, sent a request to the oil industry to reopen the National Oil Bargaining pattern agreement and negotiate health and safety provisions.
"I've asked the industry to sit down and have an honest discussion about handling safety effectively," said Beevers. "Let's conduct a thorough analysis, then negotiate a signed agreement that addresses the alarming deterioration in safety throughout the oil industry."
This spring was tragic in the oil sector. During the months of April and May there were 13 fires, 19 deaths and 25 injuries. This year refineries have averaged one fire per week. These figures reflect only reported incidents. There could be more because refineries have no legal obligation to report every incident.
"The same loose attitude toward risk and willingness to put cost ahead of safety that led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster exist throughout the oil industry," Beevers said. "It's not just offshore drilling and it's not just BP.
"We need enforceable health and safety provisions whether it's through negotiations with the industry or through regulation and legislation. We prefer direct negotiations, but if the industry refuses to bargain, we are prepared to go to Congress, OSHA, EPA – whatever it takes," Beevers said.
Negotiations with the oil industry would cover such items as process safety, the right to refuse unsafe work, fatigue and reporting of process safety indicators.
"Refinery safety is everybody's business," Beevers said. "It affects the community as well as our workers. The oil companies can't do it alone. For safety to be effective there needs to be worker involvement."
The USW is the largest industrial union in North America and has 850,000 members in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean. It represents workers employed in metals, rubber, chemicals, paper, oil refining, atomic energy and the service sector.